Revealed | 

The junior minister who flew business class to middle east while Darragh O’Brien travelled in economy

Seven Government representatives availed of upgraded travel for St Patrick’s Day visits

Minister Darragh O'Brien

Junior Minister Peter Burke. Photo: Sasko Lazarov

Housing minister Darragh O'Brien

Michael McHaleIndependent.ie

A junior minister flew business class, while the senior minister in his department was in economy on the same flight earlier this year, an analysis of travel records reveals.

Documents show that Minister of State at the Department of Housing Peter Burke enjoyed the perks of business class on a flight to Abu Dhabi as part of St Patrick’s Day Government travel.

His senior colleague – Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien – flew with him, but had to make do with economy class.

In total, seven Government representatives – including the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, two senior Green Ministers and the Attorney General – flew business class on their St Patrick’s Day trips. Business class seats are responsible for emitting three times more carbon than economy.

Mr Burke travelled to Japan and South Korea as part of the St Patrick’s Day programme.

The Fine Gael TD’s journey began with a stopover flight from Dublin to Abu Dhabi on March 12 – the same flight taken by Housing Minister Daragh O’Brien, who was travelling to the Dubai Expo.

Mr Burke flew in business class with his private secretary, while Mr O’Brien and two aides were booked in standard seats for the seven-hour journey. All of Mr Burke’s flights on his trip were business class, with the exception of travel from Tokyo to Seoul in South Korea, which was economy.

Housing minister Darragh O'Brien

A statement from the Department of Housing said travel policy is “fully compliant with the rules set out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

“For Minister Burke’s St Patrick’s Day visit to Japan and Korea, business class travel was deemed appropriate by the Department due to the long-haul nature of the trip, the need to work while travelling, and the subsequent 25 high-level engagements he held in both countries.”

Elsewhere, Environment Minister and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan flew business class from Dublin to Washington, and again from New York to Dublin in March, at a cost of €3,312.

Tourism Minister and the party’s deputy leader Catherine Martin travelled in business class as part of her trip to Argentina, which included flight stopovers in Paris and, on return, Amsterdam. The combined cost for the minister, her private secretary and special advisor was €18,735.

A spokesperson for Ms Martin’s department said such decisions “are dictated by the demands of an itinerary”, adding that her work “started immediately upon arrival after a 17-hour journey” . ​

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was among a delegation of nine who travelled to Washington DC for his St Patrick’s Day visit to the White House.

Business class cabin of an Airbus SE A350 aircraft. Picture: Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg© Bloomberg

Of these, the Taoiseach, his wife, Chief of Staff Deirdre Gillane and the Taoiseach’s private secretary Maura Duffy, travelled in business class.

The rest of the group were seated in economy class for the outbound journey.

However, all delegates were upgraded to business class on the return flight after the Taoiseach tested positive for Covid while in the US, causing flight bookings to be amended.

Records of initial bookings show the added cost of more luxurious travel, with business class tickets almost three times more expensive than standard travel. For example, an economy class booking for the Washington trip had cost €861 for one of the security detail, compared to €2,394 the Taoiseach was initially charged for the same return flights in business class.

Elsewhere, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar travelled to Chile and Colombia with private secretary Éamonn Mc Cormack and Chief of Staff Brian Murphy.

The trio flew economy from Dublin to London, but then business class for further legs of their journey, which included a stop-off in Madrid before reaching Santiago.

They later flew economy class to Bogota in Colombia then business class for the return to Dublin, again stopping off in Madrid, at a total cost of €3,434 per person.

Other business class travel as part of St Patrick’s Day Government trips included Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Colm Brophy, who flew to Mexico at a cost of €2,121. The Government’s lawyer, Attorney General Paul Gallagher flew business class to Washington, with flights costing €3,254.

Under Government policy, ministerial departments are required to make an annual payment to a Climate Action Fund run by the Department of the Environment, by calculating the carbon emissions resulting from official air travel.


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