Ahern: €8k per person

COMMERCIAL flights to transport the minister for foreign affairs around the world have cost more than €70,000 over the past three years. The flights ranged in value from a bargain €126 to a massive €11,257 for one single trip to the Far East, according to details obtained by the Sunday Tribune.

The most expensive flight related to a trip made to the Brazilian city of Sao Paolo in March of 2008 for then minister Dermot Ahern and his wife Maeve. According to details of that trip, the flights ended up costing €15,979, almost €8,000 per passenger. The Department of Foreign Affairs said the route had involved flying first to Paris and then on to Sao Paolo before a return leg routed through London.

A flight a month later to Nairobi in Kenya for Ahern came in at €7,891.30. On that occasion, Ahern travelled alone and was obliged to travel to London to catch a connecting flight to Africa.

The single most expensive flight came in May 2006 when Ahern travelled to Tokyo and Beijing for an official visit at a cost of €11,257.73.

Two months earlier, the minister had also travelled to Dallas, Washington and New York with his wife for St Patrick's Day, with flights costing a total of €9,086.

The same St Patrick's Day trip in 2007, this time only to Washington, for both the minister and his spouse cost €8,312, according to the department.

In November 2007, on another official visit to Tokyo, the minister was again accompanied by his wife with flights costing a total of €6,591.72.

Spending on overseas travel has dipped considerably since Micheál Martin took over at the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to the figures. He has travelled abroad by commercial airline six times with the most expensive flight a €2,980.49 trip to Philadelphia and Washington in September 2008.

The department made use of scheduled flights on just 23 occasions, usually when the government jet was either out of service or in other use. According to the details made available, Martin's spouse travelled abroad on nine of those occasions.

The department has already been the subject of controversy over its use of the government jet. Last year, it ran up a bill of almost €900,000 on board five different government aircraft, including two jets, a helicopter and two smaller aircraft. The most expensive of those trips was the €287,000 trip made by Dermot Ahern to the Middle East, East Timor, Southeast Asia and Australia.

The annual bill for travel aboard the government air fleet came to a total of €3.628m over the course of 702 flying hours. The Gulfstream IV – where hourly flying costs are in the order of €7,100 – racked up 345 hours in the air last year, coming in at a total cost of €2.722m.