Incoming: Defence minister Willie O'Dea used military choppers five times last year to bring him from his home in Limerick to Dublin

FERRYING ministers around by helicopter has cost the taxpayer more than €84,000 over the past 12 months.

Defence minister Willie O'Dea used the military choppers five times last year to collect him from his home in Limerick and transport him to Dublin at a cost of €12,300.

In the week that minister Martin Cullen claimed to have been "nearly killed" when a door fell from his air corps helicopter transport, straitened economic conditions have done nothing to curb the appetite of the government for VIP transport services.

Already this year, more than €10,000 has been spent requisitioning the air corps craft to transport ministers to official engagements.

Despite having access to a personal car and driver, transport minister Noel Dempsey twice used a helicopter in February at a cost of €4,725. Both times, the aircraft travelled to Trim GAA pitch where it picked him up for engagements in Shannon airport before returning him home.

Justice minister Dermot Ahern also ran up a €4,200 bill when he asked for a helicopter to pick him up near his home in Dundalk and fly him to Letterkenny. The helicopter was in the air for 120 minutes which, on a round trip, would have saved a couple of hours on the five-hour driving time.

When foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin travelled to Belfast in January, he at least went to Baldonnel aerodrome to catch his lift, and his journey cost just €1,575.

Martin Cullen last week defended the use of helicopters when it emerged that a second chopper had been drafted in to fly him after Monday's door malfunction.

"It's a question of whether government can function and people can do their jobs," he said, adding that 90% of his bill was "fixed costs".

Defence minister Willie O'Dea used air corps helicopters five times last year to take him from his home in Limerick to Dublin. In March and April, he caught "the chopper" from Sarsfield Barracks to departmental HQ at a cost of €2,800. In May, he used a helicopter on a whistle-stop tour of Ireland, after being collected in Limerick and travelling to Sligo, Donegal and Dublin. The bill for that trip on board the €12m Agusta Westland AW139 was €4,200. In both June and August, the minister requisitioned a chopper to bring him on the 150km journey from his home to the Curragh military camp at a cost of €5,200.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen travelled by chopper five times last year. Tánaiste Mary Coughlan used a helicopter three times at a cost of €5,775.

The shortest chopper journey was the 35km trip from Drumcondra to Powerscourt, Co Wicklow, by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The time on board was estimated at 30 minutes; driving would have taken about 35 minutes.

Ministers had a choice of two helicopters: a €1,100-an-hour Eurocopter 135 or a €2,100-an-hour Agusta Westland AW139.