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Over €1m spent on sending children of Irish diplomats to school

The cost will rise this year but in over a third of Irish foreign posts there are no children in education paid for by the State.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

IT COST OVER €1 million to send Irish diplomats’ children to school in countries all over the world last year with that cost expected to rise this year.

In figures provided in answer to a parliamentary question, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that the total amount paid under the programme known as School Fees Assistance (SFA) was €1.06m last year.

The Department estimates that this will rise by 8 per cent to €1.14 million this year. This is partly due to the  current euro-dollar exchange rate as well as a greater number of children accompanying diplomats on foreign postings.

Included in last year’s figures were significant sums that were put towards the school fees of children of diplomats based in the US and the UK where costs were €141,448.89 and €101,531.59 respectively, primarily because of the greater number of Irish officials working in these countries.

A total of €113,570 was also spent in payments under the SFA scheme for diplomats based in Belgium.

“The rationale underpinning the scheme is that children of an officer serving the State abroad should not be disadvantaged in educational terms relative to children in the Irish school system,” Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said in response to the PQ.

“Furthermore, a change of school can be traumatic for any child and my Department has a duty to facilitate officers in moving their children with as little disruption as possible between the different education systems of the countries to which they are posted in the service of the State.”

Gilmore said that in general where language, educational standards and curriculum at public schools are “comparable to Ireland” the children will attend such schools.

The figures also include over €19,000 spent in Ethiopia, €55,000 spent in Mozambique, €37,000 spent in Malawi and €197 spent in Vietnam. The Department of Foreign Affairs has around 275 personnel based abroad in 58 different countries.

This table provides a full breakdown of payments under the Department’s SFA scheme on a country-by-country basis. School fees are not paid in over a third of Ireland’s diplomatic posts:

(The amount of €4,515 for HEADQUARTERS relates to costs incurred in ensuring continuity of education for children of staff who were based at the Department’s offices in Ireland between postings)

Fianna Fáil’s Seán Fleming queried the amount spent in payments to diplomats serving in the UK and the US given that both are English speaking countries.

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He said: “I think people will be surprised by the costs involved.  Ireland’s economic, social and cultural ties with the UK and America are deep-rooted and I think there are legitimate questions to be asked about the amount of money spent on fee-paying education in those countries.”

Fleming said that he had contacted the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin to see if the allowance was under review like others across the public service and the TD said that he was seeking justification for the 8 per cent rise in cost expected this year.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The basis of the scheme is not about sending children to private fee-paying schools but to ensure that the child is not disadvantaged in educational terms.

“In particular, staff of the Department will live in several countries during their child’s school years and availing of internationally applied school curricula through a single language is generally a requirement to minimise disruption for children between the different education systems of the countries concerned.  Practice of the Department in this respect is no different than applied by most companies and organisations who have staff deployed abroad.

“Costs of the scheme depend on the number of children accompanying their parents abroad and fluctuating exchange rates with the fees of most international schools are dollar-based.  These vary year to year.  The US and the UK are high in the list as there are more staff with children posted in these locations than elsewhere.”

Read: Adoptions, kidnaps and floods: A busy year for Dept of Foreign Affairs

Read: Diplomacy isn’t free: what Ireland’s 75 embassies cost us in 2010

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Hugh O'Connell

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