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The Government has spent more than €450,000 hiring private jets for overseas trips taken by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin in the last nine months, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Plans to spend €45 million purchasing a new jet were announced by the Coalition last year given the plane previously used for official travel, a Learjet 45, has in recent years been deemed unreliable and prone to breaking down.

Figures show the cost of hiring private jets for Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin’s travel in the last nine months has been €459,000, with €300,000 of that spent on five overseas trips taken by the Fine Gael leader.

The spend included €110,014 to hire a private jet for a two-day trip to the west Balkans in January. Mr Varadkar visited Kosovo, North Macedonia and Montenegro. A further €72,000 was spent hiring a jet to travel to Chișinău, the Moldovan capital, last May for a meeting of European leaders.

Trips to Brussels last October and December cost €94,429, the Department of Defence figures show. Private jet travel by Mr Varadkar to Copenhagen, Denmark last November cost €24,700.

The Government spent €158,000 hiring a private plane for a visit to Israel and Egypt last November by Mr Martin, the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The department previously told the Air Corps that it had lost “all confidence” in the Learjet after it was unable to take off due to a fault when Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris was due to fly to Brussels last December.

Following the incident, department secretary general Jacqui McCrum told Defence Forces Chief-of-Staff Seán Clancy she believed the plane should be taken out of service.

In a statement, the Department of the Taoiseach said the cost of hiring private planes for official travel would be “reasonably comparable with the annual cost of purchasing and operating a replacement aircraft for the existing Government jet”.

The travel, which included trips to international meetings, was vital and the Learjet was “often unavailable and is reaching the end of its working life,” it said.

“When no other suitable Air Corps aircraft is available as a replacement, it is necessary to use an air taxi service,” it said. “Non-commercial air travel is critical for many international meetings and other occasions which frequently run over schedule, or where Ministers may have to return from abroad urgently for Dáil business.”

Officials said Mr Varadkar also travelled by commercial flight on occasion, often on trips outside Europe.

“Doing so for travel within Europe which is very frequent would entail being regularly absent from Cabinet meetings, Cabinet committee meetings and the Dáil, as travel that can be done by non-commercial air travel in a half-day can require a full day and an overnight when done using commercial airlines,” it said.

The Department of Defence is in the process of purchasing a new mid-sized jet, which will be used for official travel, air ambulance patient transfers and helping Irish citizens abroad out of difficult situations.

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