Ministers accused of hypocrisy for using carbon-heavy private jets

The Government has been accused of double standards in tackling climate change after clocking up 150 hours on private jets during 37 flights so far this year.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s flights on the Learjet alone produced over six times more carbon than a person’s average yearly emissions from travel, food production, home heating, electricity use, and other activities.

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and ministers used the Learjet and Casa 37 times up to the end of September, clocking up more than 150 hours on the private jets. This does not include any commercial flights taken by the Government, including their annual tour across the world for St Patrick’s day.

Nor does it include the flights of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and five other ministers, along with their teams, who all travelled to the UN in New York last month as the Government jet cannot do transatlantic distances.

The two government jets produced 284.25 tonnes of carbon flying ministers to destinations including Brussels, Madrid, Paris, Helsinki, and Zurich.

To put this in context each Irish person generates an average of 13.3 tonnes of carbon each year; this includes the amount of energy burned in heating their home, driving to work, and taking foreign holidays.

This is significantly more than countries like Sweden which emits 5.5 tonnes per capita.

Ireland exceeded its annual greenhouse gas emissions allocation by more than 5m tonnes last year.

Andrew Murphy, the aviation manager with Brussels-based organisation Transport and Environment, said: “On one of those trips to Brussels, on a Learjet 45, our calculations show it would produce around six tonnes of CO2.

“For example on one of those flights there are six people, that’s one tonne per person return. If they were to fly an Aer Lingus flight you are looking at 180kg per person so it’s five times more carbon intensive to use Learjet than it is to fly commercial.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said many private jet trips could be avoided with a proper conference call system to allow ministers and senior civil servants speak with their counterparts.

“The flight to Brussels is often full of civil servants. Do we have to send civil servants every time?” he said.

“We really should be pushing for state-of-the-art video conferencing system in Government Buildings,” said Mr Ryan.

While the Taoiseach and Tánaiste are the most regular users of the Government jet, ministers including Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris, as well as junior ministers Helen McEntee and Paul Kehoe, have also flown on it this year with anything between two and seven others on board.

Mr Murphy said the Government’s general approach to aviation policy and climate has been “really disappointing”.

Ireland is now one of only four countries who completely exempts aviation from taxation and that’s due to a decision that the Taoiseach made when he was transport minister.

Mr Murphy called on the Government to follow other countries in addressing the environmental impact of aviation.

“What other European governments are doing is they are moving ahead with their own policies to address aviation emissions. Some European governments are introducing ticket taxes — the Dutch, the Swedish, the Norwegian.

“At the same time other governments are looking at taxing kerosene.

“When you fill up your car with petrol, on average across Europe you pay 50c per litre [in tax]; when Ryanair fills up its Boeing aircraft at Dublin Airport it pays zero kerosene tax, which is a big fossil-fuel subsidy which drives emissions growth,” said Mr Murphy.

Responding to a parliamentary question on the aviation tax exemption, Mr Donohoe said the area comes under European law set out in the Energy Tax Directive.

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