Foreign Affairs

Breakfasts, photos & cancelled hotels: how Government spent almost €500k on travel in two years

The highest spender was the Department of Foreign Affairs, spending €166,553 on foreign travel since the Government was formed.

THOUSANDS OF EURO spent on breakfasts, photographers and flights to far flung destinations are among some of the travel expenses racked up by Government Ministers since the coalition was formed in 2020.

Almost half a million euro has been spent in the last two and a half years, with some ministers spending significantly more on travel than others.

Other expenses include almost €30,000 being spent on a trade mission to the west coast of the US and over €1,500 that was spent on cancelled hotels in Brussels.

Since the Government was first formed, at least €473,116 has been spent on foreign travel by the coalition.

These expenses are not solely for Government ministers, with the total spend also reflecting the cost of bringing ministerial advisors and other departmental staff abroad.

The data itself was released to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín in a series of parliamentary questions.

However, up to date figures from the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications were not available.

With only two 2020 and 2021 accounted for, Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s department was among the highest spending department on foreign travel. Data on travel expenses for 2022 have not yet been published.

This includes €2,606 spent on photography services when the Taoiseach visited New York in December 2021 for a meeting of the UN General Assembly.

These included photography services at the 9/11 memorial and at the Assembly itself.

During the trip, the Taoiseach and his delegation spent €1,010 on breakfast charges at the Fitzpatrick Hotel in New York City.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Taoiseach said that all travel was “in line with the Department’s Travel Policy” and that it adhered to guidelines set down by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

“The Department seeks at all times to ensure best value for money is sought in respect of each official trip undertaken, consistent with the requirements of official business,” the spokesperson added.

Overall, the biggest spender is the Department of Foreign Affairs, with €166,553 being spent on foreign travel in the last two and a half years.

90426258 A file image of the Government Learjet from 2016

Since the formation of the Government, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has travelled abroad 53 times, including multiple trips to Iran and the United States.

Coveney’s trips abroad are mainly to Europe, particularly to meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council in either Brussels or Luxembourg.

Coveney has spent a total of 135 days travelling abroad as Minister for Foreign Affairs and an additional 19 days under his capacity as Minister for Defence

The biggest expense by the Department of Foreign Affairs so far was a four day trip to the Gulf States, where Coveney visited both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh at a total cost of €18,643.

Other high cost trips included a five day trip to both New York and Washington to attend the UN General Assembly at €17,360 and a three day Ministerial visit to China, which cost €15,444.

Responding to the PQ, Coveney said: “The work of the Department of Foreign Affairs necessitates a considerable amount of overseas travel.”

“The central aim of the Departmental travel policy is to minimise official travel costs and to achieve value for money for expenditure necessarily incurred, consistent with the effective discharge of official duties.”

The third highest spender at the Cabinet table was Tourism Minister Catherine Martin, whose Department spent €97,478 on international travel since the coalition began.

This included €29,171 spent on a week-long trip to the west coast of the US last May, where €25,581 was spent on transport alone for the Minister and three others in her Ministerial delegation.

A total of €23,638 was spent on a five day trip to the United Arab Emirates, while €22,062 was spent on a week-long trip to Argentina.

Martin has previously received scrutiny for her travels, with reports in early July of how she travelled first class to Argentina as part of the St Patrick’s Day trade missions.

When questioned on it last month, Martin said that she tries to limit her air travel as much as possible, but as tourism minister it wasn’t always possible.

Future of Media report 003 Taoiseach Micheál Martin defended Tourism Minister Catherine Martin on her decisions to fly business class Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Martin said that the trade missions she undertook had a “packed itinerary” and flying in business class on long haul flights was “in line with policy”.

“It depends on the itinerary, it depends on the trade mission. If it’s needed, then yes, if it’s not needed, then absolutely not. It depends,” said Martin.

The Taoiseach agreed, saying that the itinerary for individual trade missions are packed and that it was important for ministers to “hit the ground running”.

“Most of these missions are work-based. You have to hit the ground running from here. In other words, you work up to the time you get on the plane and you’re going to hit the ground running when you get off a plane,” the Taoiseach added.

However, Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín questioned the spending by Martin and said it was “an enormous amount of spending for just one department”.

“I’d love to know what was gained with these excursions – this €100,000 out of the public purse spent on flights and hotels – what has the Minister learned on her trips abroad – what knowledge or concrete benefits has she brought home to Ireland,” Tóibín said.

In a statement to The Journal, Martin’s Department of Tourism said that with the easing of pandemic restrictions, the minister’s involvement in tourism and trade missions was part of a government drive to help restore inbound tourism into Ireland.

The statement says, the trips “are organised by Tourism Ireland and are designed to build awareness internationally of Ireland as a tourist destination and to grow visitor numbers and revenue from overseas tourism.”

Martin’s department also said that “75% of tourism revenue in Ireland is made up from international visitors, and these missions are an important element of the tourism rebuilding effort, in line with the Programme for Government commitments around tourism, in support of the recovery of the sector and to help support employment in Ireland”.

It continues: “As Minister for arts, culture, sport and media the Minister’s role involves the promotion of Irish arts and culture internationally, including the audio-visual sector which is estimated to be worth over €500 million in 2021 and supports 12,000 local jobs.”

Additional reporting by Stephen McDermott

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