Ulster Judges In Jet-Set Furore

Ulster’s judges are still being transported across the border by private jet based on 20-year-old security advice. A Belfast Telegraph Freedom of Information request has revealed that almost £200,000 of public money has been spent on the luxury flights in two years.

The information shows that a return trip to the Republic is costing just under £2,000 on each occasion.

In comparison, a first class return train ticket from Belfast to Dublin costs £62 and a return taxi fare costs around £260. There are no direct flights between Belfast and Dublin but a return flight, connecting in Cork, costs from £165.

While high profile politicians utilise public transport, members of the judiciary have flown by private jet 91 times over the past two years – despite the increasingly stable security situation.

On responding to the FOI request the Northern Ireland Court Service would not reveal the identity of the members of the judiciary using the private jet or the purpose for their travel.

The revelations today lead to a senior politician saying the practice is a waste of public funds and should be reviewed.

Responding to this paper’s request for information, the Court Service said that the judiciary continued to travel to and from the Republic by private aircraft on security grounds. The response said that the arrangement was introduced on security advice in 1987 following the IRA murder of the second most senior judge in Northern Ireland, Lord Justice Maurice Gibson, and his wife, Lady Cecily Gibson.

The couple were killed by a remote-controlled car bomb as they drove over the border into Northern Ireland after a holiday.

A spokesperson for the Court Service’s FOI team added: “The judiciary do not use private aeroplanes to travel to other locations.

“From April 2005 until May 14, 2007 members of the judiciary have used a private aeroplane on 91 occasions.

“The flights cost £75k in the financial year of 2005/06 and £96k in 2006/07.

“Court Service officials cannot book these flights for their own use.

“On one occasion an official travelled in the company of a member of the judiciary for business purposes.”

MLA Alban Maginness, SDLP justice spokesman and a former barrister, said it was very surprising that a decision to fly by private jet should be based on circumstances in the 80s or even the 90s.

He added: “It seems to me going by private jet to the Republic is rather excessive and a waste of public funds.

“It seems over the top given the present peaceful circumstances. It appears unnecessary and therefore should be reviewed.”