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Business-class flights and 5-star hotels: Here's how much the Government spent on St Patrick's Day trips in 2018

Figures obtained under FOI show how each Department spent on St Patrick’s Day last year.

Taoiseach visits United States of America Leo Varadkar gives Donald Trump a bowl of shamrock in the White House last year Source: PA Archive/PA Images

THE GOVERNMENT SPENT more than €260,000 to send Ministers abroad on trade missions for St Patrick’s Day in 2018, figures seen by TheJournal.ie reveal.

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that at least €267,000 was spent on trips abroad as part of the ‘Promote Ireland’ programme last year.

Members of the Cabinet and almost 50 civil servants visited more than 40 countries in an effort to promote Ireland’s political and economic interests abroad.

Those who travelled included the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Ministers and Ministers of State, as well as the Chief Whip, the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, and the Attorney General.

More than €190,000 was spent on flights, with tens of thousands also spent on hotel accommodation and thousands more on gifts for dignitaries – including €350 on a customary bowl of shamrock for the US President.

While the entire cost was more than Ministerial visits in previous years, particularly those made when Enda Kenny was Taoiseach, it pales in comparison to trips taken at the height of the Celtic Tiger.

Information previously supplied to RTÉ, showed that in 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s government spent €560,000 when they travelled abroad for St Patrick’s Day.

The annual visits last year were part of ‘Ireland Connected’, a Government trade strategy billed as a “comprehensive, strategic approach to high-level visits and trade missions”.

Ahead of last year’s trips, the Government announced that it was hoping to express its position on Brexit and Northern Ireland during the visits, as well as to campaign for membership of the UN Security Council from 2021 to 2022.

Only Minister for Health Simon Harris, who cancelled his trip to deal with hospital overcrowding, and Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who promoted Ireland at home, did not travel.

As part of an audit of last year’s programme, TheJournal.ie asked each Department, the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Office of the Attorney General about the costs associated with each visit.

The request asked how much was spent on travel, accommodation and other expenses for each member of Government who travelled, as well as for any officials who travelled with them, and the amount each Department or office spent on gifts.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

As tradition dictates, the Taoiseach had the most high-profile trip abroad last year (one which didn’t pass without controversy), visiting the US to spend St Patrick’s Day with US President Donald Trump in the White House.

The total cost of the trip for Varadkar and eight officials, who included Chief of Staff Brian Murphy, Secretary General Martin Fraser, Government Press Secretary Nick Miller and security for the Taoiseach, came to more than €54,000.

Transatlantic and internal flights for each member of the delegation cost a total of €32,281, with Varadkar and Murphy travelling to and from Ireland in business class for €5,808 each.

Five nights’ accommodation for seven members of the delegation cost €8,672, with accommodation for the Taoiseach’s security totalling an additional €916 for four nights.

UPI 20180315 Leo Varadkar shakes hands with US President Donald Trump at the White House Source: UPI/PA Images

Meanwhile, transport around Austin, Dallas, Washington and New York came to €10,899, while €1,610 was spent by the Department of Taoiseach on gifts, including €350 on a bowl of shamrock to present to Trump.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste was sent much further afield on a 19,000km round trip to China and Hong Kong, with three officials from the Department accompanying him at a total cost of €27,522.

Flights made up the bulk of that figure, with €20,521 spent on return flights for the Minister and two of his officials.

That included a trip in business class for the Minister and two of his officials from Manchester to Hong Kong, and in the opposite direction from Beijing to Dublin via Amsterdam.

A third official travelled from Ireland to Hong Kong and back via Beijing and Istanbul for less than half that price at €2,546, while a further €957 was spent on internal flights for the delegation.

Gifts invoice The Irish Embassy in China spent over €1,000 on gifts, but not all of these were used on St Patrick's Day. Source: Department of Foreign Affairs

The delegation also clocked up a €4,782 hotel bill, spending three nights in the five-star St Regis in Beijing, one night in the five-star Portman Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai and another night in the five-star Conrad in Hong Kong.

A further €503 was spent on hiring a car, €483 on train tickets, €124 on dining, €470 on travel and subsistence expenses, and €152 on gifts.

Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe

Despite holding two Ministerial roles, there was just one trip abroad for St Patrick’s Day for Paschal Donohoe last year, when the Dublin Central TD travelled to Argentina.

He was joined by two officials from the Department of Finance and another from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the trip, which cost a total of €28,645.

Once again, most of that figure was made up by the price of return flights, which came in at a cost of €22,817.

An additional €5,380 was spent on accommodation the delegation, while the Department of Finance also included an invoice for €448.20 on Irish-themed cufflinks, pendants and bangles and seven Irish-themed silk ties.

Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan

Flanagan travelled to Australia, seen as a key partner with by the Government since the Brexit referendum, with his special advisor and private secretary.

He attended several events in Melbourne and Sydney on a trip that cost a total of €17,746.

The Department of Justice spent €15,037 on return flights for the delegation, while a further €2,618 was spent on hotels during a seven-day stay.

Although the Minster and his private secretary used ministerial transport to get around, taxis to and from the airport cost €63, and the delegation also claimed €31 in food expenses.

No gifts were purchased.

Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy

For his trip, Murphy travelled with two officials to Korea and Japan for 13 days at a total cost of €15,737.

The Department of Housing spent €10,882 on flights for the trip, including a €3,370 round trip to Tokyo in business class for the Minister.

Murphy plane Details of Eoghan Murphy's return flights from Japan Source: Department of Housing

A further €2,306 was also spent on hotels, €2,107 on transport, while there was also a €348 bill for gifts – including 10 pens and a necklace – and €94 in other unspecified costs.

Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton

The current Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment spent seven days in Germany last year, visiting Munich and Hamburg during his stay.

He was joined by his private secretary, an advisor and a Department official on the trip, which cost the taxpayer €9,774.

Transport made up the bulk of the costs for the delegation, with €2,425 spent on flights and €2,986 on hiring a minivan.

Although there was no money spent on gifts, a further €2,052 was spent on accommodation costs, while a further €2,309 in travel and subsistence expenses was claimed by members of the delegation.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed

Creed didn’t have too far to travel for his trip last year, when he visited London on a visit that took in meetings with UK Secretary of State Michael Gove and London mayor Sadiq Khan, as well as the Six Nations clash between Ireland and England at Twickenham.

The Minister travelled with a special advisor and private secretary on the six-day trip, which cost €3,541 in total.

Both Creed and his special advisor were accommodated in the Irish embassy for the duration of their stay, but €1,144 was spent putting up his private secretary elsewhere.

Maro Itoje and Peter O'Mahony Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Meanwhile, €1,550 was spent on flights for the delegation, who also claimed €786 between them in travel expenses – although ground transport costs were provided free of charge by the Irish Embassy.

A further €60 was spent on corporate gifts.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty

Another Minister who didn’t have far to go was Regina Doherty, who spent three days in France with her advisor and her private secretary at a cost of €1,906.

Doherty was also accompanied by her husband, who paid for his own flights, and stayed in the Irish Embassy in Paris without any cost to the taxpayer.

Return flights in economy class for the three government officials were €378 each, totalling €1,134, while her advisor and secretary were put up in the four-star Hotel Montfleuri for €381 each at a total cost of €772.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan

The Dublin Rathdown TD travelled to Scandinavia with an advisor, spending three nights in the Norwegian and Swedish capitals at a cost of €1,952.

The Minister and her advisor stayed in the Radisson in Stockholm and the five-star Grand Hotel in Oslo at a cost of €1,270, while bus and train tickets for the trip cost €681.

Madigan also presented a book as a gift, which was provided by Culture Ireland free of charge.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone

The Independent Minister travelled to Italy with two officials at a total cost of €4,092.

Flights for the three cost €2,575, while €912 was spent on accommodation and €605 was paid on hiring a car.

GAY CELEBRATION DUBLIN CASTLE II2A5843_90548071 Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone Source: Rollingnews.ie

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys

Another of those who travelled to the US last year, Humphreys and one official from her Department visited Boston, Texas and San Francisco at a cost of €16,997.

Transatlantic and internal flights for the pair – including return flights to Dublin in business class -  cost €5,946, while their week-long trip also saw them stay at the five-star Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco for €1,368.

Travel and subsistence payments for taxis, meals and other expenses worth €502 were also claimed.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten

The Independent Minister, who resigned over a controversy surrounding the National Broadband Plan in October, travelled to Canada with his press advisor and private secretary for €13,042.

The delegation flew in business class for €11,791, and spent €552 on accommodation during their stay.

The costs also included a €539 dining bill, and €111 on unspecified entertainment, while €49 was also spent on Canadian visas for the three people who travelled.

Chief Whip, Joe McHugh

McHugh, who has since become Minister for Education, spent last St Patrick’s Day in South America, taking in visits to Chile and Brazil alongside his special advisor.

A total of €11,472 was spent on the trip, with €10,061 spent on eight flights – including €457 on missed flights from Paris to Dublin – making up the majority of the cost.

McHugh flights Details of Joe McHugh and his advisor's flights to and from South America Source: Department of Taoiseach

The Chief Whip and his advisor spent €907 on accommodation, including stays in the 5-star Tivoli Hotel in Sao Paulo and Caesar Park hotel in Rio Di Janeiro.

Meanwhile, €520 was spent by the Department of Taoiseach on gifts, including €320 on jerseys and €183 on other unspecified gifts.

Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor

In a six-day trip to the Middle East that cost €6,945, O’Connor travelled to the UAE and Oman with her private secretary, her advisor, and an official from the Department.

Flights for the delegation cost €2,973, while €1,466 was spent accommodating the four officials.

The Department also spent €413 on gifts, while travel and subsistence expenses worth €2,092 were claimed by the delegation.

Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, Andrew Doyle

The junior minister at the Department of Agriculture spent €3,133 on a five-day visit to Vietnam for St Patrick’s Day last year.

The cost breakdown was not supplied to TheJournal.ie by the Department. A spokesman for the Department directed queries about Doyle’s trip to its website, which did not provide a breakdown of costs.

0811 Irish Gin strategy_90541595 Minister of State for Food, Forestry & Horticulture Andrew Doyle Source: Rollingnews.ie

Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Ciaran Cannon

Galway East TD Ciaran Cannon was part of another delegation to travel to the US, taking in an eight-day trip to Chicago with one official for €3,243.

Return flights for the junior minister and his official in economy class cost €1,459, with accommodation – including at the four-star Drake Hotel – costing €987.

An additional €798 was also spent on a limousine to transport the junior Minister and his official around Chicago.

Limousine A bill for a limousine for Ciaran Cannon's delegation Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee

McEntee and two officials spent four days in Austria and Slovakia at a cost of €2,070.

Return flights in economy class for the three cost €1,080, while they spent two nights at the Astoria Hotel in Vienna and another two nights in the Radisson Blu in Bratislava for €989.

The Department of Foreign Affairs was also invoiced for €509 for travel and subsistence expenses.

Minister for Financial Services and Insurance, Michael D’Arcy

D’Arcy was also sent to the US and Canada for St Patrick’s Day, travelling with two officials at a cost of €6,503.

A total of €3,513 was spent on flights, €2,766 on accommodation, and €224 on a number of unspecified gifts.

Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development, Damien English

The junior Minister in the Department of Housing spent St Patrick’s Day with a parliamentary assistant in Poland at a cost of €773.

Accommodation made up the majority of English’s bill, with €520 spent on hotels, while a further €218 was spent on return flights and €35 on gifts.

Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform, John Paul Phelan

The other junior Minister in the Housing Department also had a long round trip, travelling over 22,000km with one of his officials to Singapore at a cost of €10,013.

Flights for the junior Minister and his official came in at €7,848, while transport cost €1,127 and gifts cost €35.

COSGRAVE FUNERAL 758A5972_90525853 Minister of State John Paul Phelan (L) Source: Rollingnews.ie

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin

Griffin and his private secretary travelled to the US west coast and Mexico for St Patrick’s Day at a cost of €17,603.

A total of €13,353 was spent on return flights through London, while hotel costs amounted to €4,113 and €137 was spent on gifts.

Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe

Kehoe’s St Patrick’s Day trip saw him visit Israel and Irish troops stationed in Lebanon at a total cost of €1,772.

The junior Minister travelled with a private secretary and a special advisor, with no costs given for how much it cost to fly the delegation to the Middle East.

Included in the costs were €226 in subsistence expenses in Israel, €67 in subsistence expenses in Cyprus, and €906 on hotels in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, €525 was spent on dinner for nine guests in Israel on 14 March, while a further €48 was spent on lunch for five guests in Beirut on 19 March.

Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran

The independent junior Minister travelled to Kenya with his private secretary and special advisor at a cost of €7,229.

The delegation was put up at the five-star Fairmont Norfolk Hotel for €1,793while return flights to Nairobi via London cost €5,436.

Minister of State for Public Procurement, Patrick O’Donovan

The junior Minister at the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform travelled with his private secretary to Slovenia and Bosnia & Herzegovina for €6,718.

Flights for the two cost €4,018, hotel accommodation cost €1,704, while €661 was spent hiring a car.

The Department also paid €335 on a number of unspecified gifts for the trip.

Public Service Reform Patrick O'Donovan (R) pictured with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe (L) Source: RollingNews.ie

Minister for Community, Natural Resources and Digital Development, Sean Kyne

Kyne, who replaced Joe McHugh as Chief Whip during a mini Cabinet re-shuffle last October, visited Switzerland with his personal assistant and wife – who travelled in a personal capacity – for four days at a cost of €2,230.

Flights for the junior Minister and his assistant cost €1,116, a three-night stay at the four-star Hotel Warwick in Geneva cost €946, while another night at the three-star Bristol Hotel cost €170.

No information about whether any gifts were purchased was supplied by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Attorney General, Séamus Woulfe

The AG also travelled to the US west coast, spending a week in Seattle at a cost of €4,669.

Return flights via London Heathrow cost €3,533, while a six-night stay in an unnamed hotel cost €924.

Meanwhile, a further €212 was spent on gifts, including €65 on a GAA jersey and €147 on books.

Ceann Comhairle, Sean Ó Fearghaíl

The Ceann Comhairle and his personal assistant travelled to Croatia for three days at a total cost of €2,245.

Return flights to Zagreb cost the Houses of the Oireachtas €1,951, while expenses worth €294 were also claimed – although accommodation was paid for by those hosting the delegation.

An Oireachtas spokeswoman added that no gifts were purchased for the trip.

Cathaoirleach, Paul Coghlan

The Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and his personal assistant spent six days in Slovenia and Bosnia at a cost of €2,718.

Plane tickets and accommodation made up the majority of the cost, with €1,090 spent on flights and €1,008 on hotels.

A further €381 was claimed in expenses, while €239 was spent on five unspecified gifts.

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