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PAC chair: State should pay for wives to join ministers on some foreign trips

A case can be made for the State to foot the bill for spouses to accompany ministers on some trade missions, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has argued this morning.

John McGuinness was a junior minister at the Department of Enterprise during the last government
John McGuinness was a junior minister at the Department of Enterprise during the last government
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE CHAIRMAN OF the Dáil’s spending watchdog has said that a case could be made for ministers to be accompanied by their spouses on foreign trips and that the State should pay for these in some circumstances.

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was responding to a story concerning his time as Junior Enterprise Minister in 2007 in which he argued that there was a case to be made for a spouse to accompany a Minister on certain foreign trips.

Fiach Kelly writes in the Irish Independent that McGuinness tried to bring his wife on a trade missions to Dubai and Canada six years ago, offering to pay himself, but later he argued on a more general point that there were cases where the State should foot the bill.

On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, McGuinness said that he accepted the protocol in relation to trade missions – that wives do not accompany ministers – but pointed out that he would have paid for his own wife to travel with him.

He said: “I suggested that the 1959 circular, which the officials were basing their case on, was outdated and that the regulation and protocol should be modernised because there are circumstances, I’m sure, where ministers would like their spouses or partners to travel with them.

“A case could be made and the minister should pay, but that there may be cases and circumstances where the State might pay,” he said pointing out that this is currently the case in relation to St Patrick’s Day visits to foreign countries where spouses travel is paid for.

McGuinness said that work practices have changed and “family are now central to everything”. He continued:

“There are circumstances that should be considered when ministers are away on State business for long periods of time and where they believe that their wife should travel, they should pay and their may be other circumstances where the minister can then make a case, within a new set of guidelines, where he believes the State should pay.”

Asked if he believed the State could afford such an expense in the current economic circumstances, McGuinness said: “Can we afford not to do it in terms of trade missions and in terms of our promotion of Ireland abroad for example on St Patrick’s Day?”

He said that he did not believe the issue could be ignored and reiterated that it has always been his intention to pay for his wife to travel with him on the trade missions in question in 2007.

Speaking later on the programme, the junior transport minister Alan Kelly said he found McGuinness’s comments “quite bizarre” and said he did not believe the taxpayer should be paying for spouses to travel with ministers under any circumstances, including St Patrick’s Day.

Read: 19 ministers set for overseas travel for St Patrick’s Day

Read: ‘Green carpet treatment’ for world’s media

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Hugh O'Connell

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