Major cracks in the Fianna Fail party in Meath became evident this week as Navan councillor Shane Cassells launched a blistering attack on Transport Minister Noel Dempsey and the party hierarchy.
The Fianna Fail National Executive member and Meath County Councillor claimed the "antics" of the last week had served to sour the mood of an already angry people and that "senior members have lost touch with the challenges faced by ordinary families".
He made his comments as details were revealed that Transport Minister and Meath TD Noel Dempsey had used the government jet to attend a summer school in Donegal and as the executive of Fianna Fail launched an investigation into the expenses of Dublin Senator Ivor Callely.
Cllr Cassells said that, for most young couples, the biggest news they had to grapple with over the past week was the announcement that mortgage interest rates were going up and the impact these increases would have on their lives.
"Last week was dominated by news of false mobile phone invoices from Ivor Callely and Noel Dempsey flying to Donegal on the government jet. But, for most people, the only news that was of concern was the fact that their mortgage cost was going to increase by over €1,000 a year," he said.
"These people then look at the paper and see Callely pocketing money he was never entitled to and the Department of Transport claiming the cost of a flight on the government jet for Noel Dempsey was €13,000 and not €100,000," said Cllr Cassells.
"Who cares what it cost? It was still too much! This really is about as far removed from reality as it gets for most ordinary people."
Cllr Cassells said the mood among many of the grassroots members of the party was one of frustration and that towns like Navan had been hit harder than most over the past year by unemployment, with no hope on the horizon for many people.
The most recent unemployment figures for Meath showed 12,315 on the live register in Meath. "There are genuine attempts being made to get things back in order but there is certainly a disconnect there between many at the top and ordinary people on the ground. That message of anger and frustration was delivered to local representatives like me last year on the doorstep. but I don't think that message has been heard by those above us," he remarked.
Mr Dempsey was embroiled in controversy last week when the news broke that he used the Gulfstream IV government jet to fly from Dublin to Derry and, when he landed, his Garda driver was on hand to pick him up in his ministerial car, after having driven there from Dublin.
However, the Department of Transport has disputed national media reports concerning the cost of the minister's attendance at the MacGill Summer School, saying around €13,000 was spent on the trip, and not €100,000 as was reported.
The Department said that alternatives to the government jet were investigated, "but, in this instance, it was concluded that this was the most viable option".
The Department said the London meeting which Mr Dempsey attended after leaving Donegal concerned "potentially securing very significant investment in Ireland".
It added: "By the time the minister had finished in Glenties, there was no commercial flight that he could have taken from Derry, Donegal, Belfast, Sligo or Dublin that would get him to London in time for his 7.15am meeting in London the following morning."
Cllr Regina Doherty said the minister's actions "beggared belief".
She said: "There are a set of politicians in this country who actually believe they are above ordinary people. They are wrong. The politician is supposed to be a public servant. They are in the job to make a difference to the value of the lives of the people they serve, not their own lives."
Cllr Doherty said the expense had been incurred flying to speak to an elite few who attend the summer schools.
Cllr Peadar Tóibín said the minister's actions were particularly disgraceful given that he was travelling to Donegal to take part in a debate on the need to change political culture in Ireland.
"There is absolutely no reason why the minister could not have driven to Donegal and got a commercial flight to London from Derry the next day. He had plenty of time to book a flight, but instead the minister made a conscious decision to waste taxpayers' money and indulge in the type of extravagant wastage that is the mark of his party.
"The event finished at six in the evening so there was no reason why the minister could not have been back in Dublin that evening.
"He had plenty of other options open to him. The fact that the minister was travelling to Donegal to give a 10-minute speech on the need to change political culture in Ireland makes his actions all the more sickening," added the Sinn Fein councillor.
Cllr Tóibín said the minister and his colleagues could not be allowed to "swan around like lords and ladies" at the taxpayers' expense while his constituents in Meath were grappling with ever increasing unemployment, emigration, negative equity and cancelled vital infrastructure.
"Gravy Train Dempsey should be made to pay back the money he has wasted, just as his colleague Ivor Calelly must do," he concluded.