Government-chartered flights during Covid-19 crisis cost almost €900,000

The Department for Foreign Affairs chartered three flights to repatriate Irish citizens during the Covid-19 crisis. File photograph

The Department of Foreign Affairs chartered three planes to fly Irish people home during the Covid-19 pandemic – at a cost of nearly €900,000.

According to files released under a Freedom of Information request, 256 people were brought home to Ireland on the flights from Peru, India and Nigeria.

Overall the department has helped more than 8,000 people to return to Ireland during the crisis, with over a quarter coming from Australia or New Zealand.

They were flown on commercial flights or flights chartered by the EU and other partners.

But because of "exceptional circumstances", the department chartered three planes themselves.

Ninety-three people were flown back from Peru on March 29th, 68 from India on April 4th, and 95 from Nigeria on May 11th – with the total cost reaching almost €890,000.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said the cost was justified.

"There probably was difficulty in securing flights from those countries at that time to any European base because it was very much towards the beginning of the crisis and a lot of airlines ceased flying almost immediately," he said.

"I think there would have been no other choice but to charter flights in these circumstances."

The department said the flights were partially co-financed by the EU, other European citizens also flew on them and all passengers were required to pay a contribution towards the cost.

The department also made a special arrangement with a commercial airline to fly 166 Irish people home from Perth in Australia – at a cost of €389,000 – but passengers also paid a fee.