jet-setter | 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly used government jet instead of scheduled flight for EU meeting

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly travelled on the Learjet 45 for a meeting of EU health ministers last December.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly

Hugh O'ConnellIndependent.ie

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly used the government jet to fly to Brussels for a routine EU meeting last month despite an alternative commercial flight being available.

Mr Donnelly and four Department of Health officials travelled on the Learjet 45 on Thursday, December 8 last for a meeting of EU health ministers that was due to take place the following day.

There are typically between three and four daily flights between Dublin and Brussels, operated by Ryanair and Aer Lingus, on weekdays. Mr Donnelly’s spokesperson said the use of the government jet was requested to facilitate the minister’s “busy diary commitments”.

Coalition ministers’ use of the jet has come under more scrutiny in recent years due to the climate crisis and the greenhouse gas emissions caused by private jet travel.

Mr Donnelly’s spokesperson said the Fianna Fáil minister had a meeting in Brussels at 8pm on December 8, the evening before the summit of EU health ministers, which is known as the Epsco (Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs) Council.

While Mr Donnelly was in the Dáil that Thursday morning for around 90 minutes to answer Opposition TDs’ questions on health matters, it is unclear what other diary commitments he had that day. His diary is not published online and his spokesperson provided no further detail.

Mr Donnelly’s Twitter shows him opening the registration portal for the Laura Brennan HPV Vaccination Catch-Up Programme outside the Department of Health in Dublin that Thursday with the tweet posted at 12.41pm.

An Aer Lingus flight from Dublin Airport to Brussels Airport scheduled at 3.30pm that same Thursday departed at 3.43pm and landed in Brussels at 6.02pm local time which would likely have been sufficient for Mr Donnelly to make his 8pm engagement in the Belgian capital.

Asked to explain why – given there are daily flights from Dublin to Brussels – the government jet was used, Mr Donnelly’s spokesperson said: “The government jet was requested to facilitate the Minister’s busy diary commitments.

“Within the delegation, the minister is being supported by his private secretary, along with a senior official from North-South, EU and International Unit, a senior official from the Medicines, Controlled Drugs and Pharmacy Legislation Unit, and a junior colleague for briefing and reporting support. No advisers are travelling with the minister.

“The minister’s official briefing for the event is scheduled to take place during the flight. The minister has a meeting at 8pm on Thursday evening in Brussels and a number of bilateral engagements early on Friday morning before attending the Epsco Council.”

Last year, the Irish Independent revealed that Green Party ministers had been travelling on business class flights for international state visits despite the higher carbon footprint of premium airline seats.

Mr Donnelly’s use of the jet came at a time when it was widely speculated in political circles that he could be dropped from Cabinet in the reshuffle that took place when Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar swapped the Taoiseach’s office nine days later on December 17. It was only the second time he used the jet in his two and a half years in office.

Mr Donnelly was, however, retained in the health brief and has in recent weeks been grappling with a worsening crisis in hospitals as a result of the surge in winter viruses.


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