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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019
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Taoiseach defends Michael D Higgins' use of government jet to fly to Belfast

Leo Varadkar said the pilots are “paid anyway” and the added costs of flying someone in the plane are “very small”.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has defended President Michael D Higgins’ use of the government jet to travel to Belfast. 

Last week during a televised debate, presidential candidate Peter Casey criticised the decision by Higgins to take the jet to Belfast for an engagement and have his car driven from Dublin to meet him there.

During the debate, Higgins said the travel arrangement was made due to security concerns about being picked up at the border. However his claim was rejected by PSNI sources who said it would be inconceivable that the President would not have been afforded the security if it had been requested. 

Following criticism from his fellow candidates and calls for him to clarify his comments, Higgins cited logistics and security and said he had followed the advice of his office. 

Canvassing for Higgins on Dublin’s Grafton Street this morning, the Taoiseach said the jet is sometimes used for security reasons, but “usually to save time”.

“On occasion it is used to Belfast or Derry and that can be done for different reasons. It’s often done to save time, you know, it may save two hours on a Belfast trip or four hours on a Derry trip and that’s not a case of getting home earlier it’s a case of being able to fit in more functions, very often,” he explained. 

“I know there’s an understandable public concern around the cost of using something like the jet, but bear in mind the plane is owned by the government, the pilots are paid anyway.

“And we had a very strange situation during the recession when it was actually being flown around empty because the pilots have to keep up a certain number of flying hours and the added cost is actually very small – there’s obviously security costs associated with going by land as well.”

He said the use of the jet by the President is “not something that is policed by the department” and that it is approved whenever the Áras requests use of the jet and it is available. 

Varadkar said Fine Gael believes Higgins has done “a very good job” as President and is somebody who has a real understanding of the role.

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