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St Patrick's Day flights for Taoiseach's entourage cost €37,334

Delays and uncertainty in the formation of a new government meant the tickets were booked just four days in advance – costing €9,257 for Enda Kenny alone.

CdnhoHgWoAABT1M The Taoiseach Enda Kenny, his wife Fionnuala Kenny, First Lady Michelle Obama, and President Obama. Source: The White House via Twitter

THIS YEAR’S ST Patrick’s Day trips abroad may have been stripped down, but delays and uncertainty in forming a new government contributed to civil servants spending €37,334 on hastily-booked flights to Washington for the Taoiseach, his wife and his entourage.

That’s almost four times more than the cost of flights for Enda Kenny’s visit to the US in September.

The official foreign travel report for March shows that the Taoiseach’s return flights, confirmed by officials to have been business-class, cost €9,257.40 for a short visit to Washington DC from 13-15 March.

The same amount was paid for business-class tickets for Enda Kenny’s Chief of Staff Mark Kennelly, and his Private Secretary Nick Reddy.

Economy-class tickets were booked for the Taoiseach’s wife Fionnuala Kenny, costing €3,112.55; the Government Press Secretary Feargal Purcell, costing €3,199.55; and Kenny’s security detail, costing €3,249.55.

Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach, flew from Dublin to Washington on 13 March, and then from New York to Dublin, having stayed on for another three days, for a cost of €1,690.42.

The Taoiseach’s department told TheJournal.ie the flights were booked through Aer Lingus and involved connections on JetBlue from Boston to Washington, and on British Airways from London to Dublin on the way back.

Video President Joe Biden greets Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala The Taoiseach and his wife Fionnuala Kenny, meeting Vice President Joe Biden in March. Source: MerrionStreet.ie

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach said:

The talks on government formation resulted in the programme for the visit and flight arrangements having to be finalised at short notice.

Interestingly, however, the spokesperson told us that the flights were booked on 9 March, the day before the first vote for Taoiseach, whose inconclusive result meant Kenny would still be acting Taoiseach and in a position to represent Ireland in the US, from 13-15 March.

Another spokesperson for the Taoiseach said the flights had been arranged “in line with the Department’s travel policy,” and were “in keeping with standard practice”.

Internal government guidelines on foreign travel for ministers and their staff dictate that:

Business class travel should be confined to limited situations where the Head of the Department is satisfied that the additional cost can be justified in relation to the length of the flight and the official business to be conducted.

Source: The White House/YouTube

On the last day of the visit, Kenny met and attended functions with President Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, and other US officials including Secretary of State John Kerry.

During a speech at the Irish Ambassador’s reception that night, the Taoiseach – then involved in negotiations over the formation of a new government – recounted for guests a conversation with his driver about how his day had been going:

…And then you meet with senators and congressmen about other issues – about Ireland and about Northern Ireland.
Then you go back to the White House and you meet the President again and five or six hundred guests are there in the East Room.
I said ‘the day’s actually going very well’.

He concluded:

I was going to say ‘Bejaysus it’s a pity I have to go back to Ireland and face what I have to face back there’ – but however.

DC 3/15/16 Enda Kenny speaking with Paul Ryan, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and President Barack Obama. Source: MerrionStreet.ie

The cost of flights for March’s visit – €37,334 for the Taoiseach and five others – contrasts with that of his last trip to the US, for a UN summit in New York from 23-25 September 2015.

Then, Kenny and Kennelly’s return flights cost €3,412.14 each, and Purcell, Reddy and the Taoiseach’s security detail flew to New York and back for just €699.14 each.

Martin Fraser’s outgoing flight cost €497.01, meaning the total cost of flights for the Taoiseach and his entourage (then also five individuals) was less than €10,000.

You can keep track of expenses in the Taoiseach’s department here

Read: “Bejaysus it’s a pity I have to go back to Ireland” – Enda shares his woes in Washington>

Read: Enda is off to Washington, but only a few ministers will get a Paddy’s Day trip>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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