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Taoiseach Michael Martin and Eamon Ryan outside the Irish Embassy in Washington in March PA
THE MORNING LEAD

Tuxedo rental and novelty socks: The €175k cost of the Govt's St Patrick's Day trips this year

The annual junkets returned in March after a two-year hiatus.

THE GOVERNMENT SPENT almost €175,000 to send ministers abroad on trade missions for St Patrick’s Day this year, data compiled by The Journal shows.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show how much the Government paid for five-star hotels, limousines, tuxedo rental and shamrock bowls to promote Ireland and to support Irish communities across the world.

The visits took place within weeks of the beginning of the war in Ukraine, and the Government also sought to use the trips to express solidarity with the war-torn country and to express Ireland’s “strong commitment to democratic and humanitarian values”.

Members of the Cabinet and more than 40 civil servants visited 62 cities in 28 countries as part of traditional visits to promote Ireland’s political and economic interests abroad, the first time this occurred since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Those who travelled included the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, most ministers and ministers of state, and the Attorney General.

The highest amount was spent on flights, with tens of thousands more spent on hotel accommodation, and thousands more on gifts for dignitaries – including €1,700 on a customary bowl of shamrock for the US President – and mandatory Covid tests.

The total cost was less expensive than in previous years, clocking in at around €85,000 cheaper than the last pre-Covid programme in 2019.

It also paled in comparison to trips taken at the height of the Celtic Tiger. Information supplied to RTÉ, showed that in 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s government spent €560,000 when they travelled abroad for St Patrick’s Day.

Several ministers and ministers of state did not travel abroad this year, including Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue and Chief Whip Jack Chambers. 

As part of an audit of this year’s programme, The Journal asked each Department 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.

As per tradition, Taoiseach Micheál Martin travelled to the US to spend St Patrick’s Day with US President Joe Biden in the White House (although it didn’t quite work out like that). He also travelled to London for three days before setting off for the US.

The total cost of both trips for Micheál Martin and his officials was at least €7,141.50, with the figure not including the cost of flights or US accommodation, neither of which were supplied by the Department of An Taoiseach.

Accommodation for the Taoiseach and his delegation for two nights in London’s Hilton at Park Lane came in at €5,035.76.

For the US leg of the trip, €1,753.12 was spent on a crystal shamrock bowl for president Joe Biden, as well as other gifts presented to Vice President Kamala Harris, her husband, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

And a further €352.62 was spent on mandatory PCR testing for Covid-19 for those who travelled across the Atlantic with the Taoiseach.

st-patricks-day-event-at-the-white-house-washington Micheál Martin addressed the White House remotely after contracting Covid-19 while in the US AL DRAGO / PA Images AL DRAGO / PA Images / PA Images

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was sent much further afield, visiting Chile and Colombia over ten days from 8-18 March at a cost of at least €10,303.83.

That cost included flights for the Tánaiste, his private secretary and an adviser. No information was given on any gifts paid for by the delegation or the price of accommodation, however.

Like the Taoiseach, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also visited the US for St Patrick’s Day, taking in New York and Washington DC with his chief of staff and private secretary for a total cost of €10,763.55.

The figure included €3,006 on business class flights for the Environment Minister, despite studies suggesting that flying first class causes higher emissions than doing so in cheaper seats, while his two officials flew economy for €1,969.36.

A further €5,243 was spent on six nights’ accommodation in two different hotels – while other costs for the delegation included €207 on Covid tests, €70 on airport lounge expenses, €258 on tuxedo rental in New York and €10 on airport fast track in Dublin.

The most expensive trip was taken by Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State at the Department of Transport with special responsibility for International and Road Transport and Logistics.

The Fine Gael TD travelled to Australia with an adviser at a cost of €15,347.76, the vast majority of which was spent on flights.

Another who broke the five-figure mark was Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin, who travelled to Argentina with her special adviser at a cost of €14,830.73.

Once again, flights made up the majority of that figure, with the department spending€12,097.30 on getting the minister and her adviser to and from South America.

And Robert Troy, who recently stood down from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, also broke the five-figure mark on his visit to Mumbai in India with two civil servants, which cost €12,058.96.

Flights for the junior minister, his personal assistant and an official from the department cost €9,127.07, a figure which included travel from Ireland and internal trips in India.

Accommodation for the trio cost €2,418.94, a further €299.85 was spent on gifts, while the two officials who accompanied Troy also claimed expenses of €213.10 between them on road tolls, parking, taxis to the airport and visa documentation.

fianna-fail-party-think-in-in-mullingar Robert Troy (R) travelled to India with two civil servants PA PA

Several other ministers from Cabinet also travelled abroad for St Patrick’s Day.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe visited London with a delegation for €7,036.25; Higher Education Minister Simon Harris visited Paris with two people for €2,192.80; and Education Minister Norma Foley visited Boston with two advisers and her department’s secretary general for €3,340.75.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee went to Savannah in the US with two civil servants for €5,016.76, a cost which included €245.42 on assigned seating on the plane for the minister and her adviser and €489 on PCR testing. 

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien travelled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with his adviser and secretary for €8,161.77, including €1,004.50 on car hire in Dubai, €168 on parking for the minister’s secretary and €2,671.31 on subsistence for the trio.

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath travelled to San Francisco in the US and Vancouver in Canada along with two departmental staff and his secretary general for €7,763.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly travelled to San Antonio and Austin in Texas with two advisers for €3,435.72, which included a €90 expense on eight vases to be presented as gifts.

And Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman travelled to New York with his adviser and private secretary for €8,360.48, which included €442.89 on trains within the US.

Meanwhile Paul Gallagher, the Attorney General – who traditionally travels for St Patrick’s Day and also sits at Cabinet – also visited Washington DC at a cost of €4,495.52.

Among the members of Cabinet who didn’t travel were Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who nevertheless spent €33.30 on gifts, and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue, whose trip was cancelled after €1,757.91 was spent on flights.

Eighteen junior ministers also travelled, including the aforementioned Robert Troy and Hildegarde Naughton, at a total cost of €81,822.06.

Among their expenses were €1,141.31 spent on a limousine in Chicago by a delegation accompanying Patrick O’Donovan, Minister of State with responsibility for Office of Public Works, and €651.25 by Joe O’Brien, Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development, on a driver in Helsinki.

And a total of €6,322.72 was spent on various gifts by all ministers, junior ministers and the Attorney General.

The items presented included bowls of shamrock, wool scarves from the gift shop Kilkenny, shamrock paperweights, ballpoint pens, Waterford Crystal candle-holders and novelty socks.

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