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Government has spent €700,000 sending Ministers abroad for St Patrick's Day since 2011

If you think that’s steep, check out the previous government’s bill…

Enda Kenny in Washington 2013 Source: DC photographer Marty Katz

THE GOVERNMENT HAS spent €705,050 on Ministerial trips abroad for St Patrick’s Day, between 2011 and 2014, TheJournal.ie can reveal.

Some €369,907 was spent on Enda Kenny’s annual visits to the United States since becoming Taoiseach in 2011 – more than all other ministers combined.

An analysis of figures provided by government departments shows that the single most expensive Paddy’s Day outing in the life of the coalition so far was Kenny’s visit to the United States in 2013.

On that occasion, use of the government jet, limousine hire, hotel accommodation, and other costs for both the Taoiseach and his staff  amounted to a bill of €142,304, which is detailed below.

An estimated €110,400 of this came from the use of the Gulfstream jet, which costs €4,140 per hour of flight.

TheJournal.ie can also reveal that ministerial visits to 23 countries in 2014 cost a total of €230,658, with the Taoiseach’s trip to Washington DC, Boston and New York racking up a bill of €92,254.

For a detailed breakdown of travel costs for 2014, click here.

20112015final Source: Click here for large image

Total spending on official St Patrick’s Day visits was €248,418 in 2013, €136,140 the previous year, and €89,834 in 2011, when just nine ministers were dispatched.

Costs for 2015 are not yet available, as the outings of 29 ministers are currently in progress.

The government has consistently defended the annual tradition, with Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan recently claiming last year’s programme alone had directly facilitated €5 million in new business for Irish companies:

The value of St. Patrick’s Day to the promotion of Ireland overseas cannot be overestimated.The St. Patrick’s Day period is perhaps the best showcase of “Team Ireland” in operation abroad.
Last year’s programme reached audiences of over 353,000 directly and 80 million through media coverage, and assisted in securing €5 million in new business for Irish exporters.

Furthermore, all foreign travel by government ministers and officials is governed by Department of Finance guidelines, which forbid (in most cases) first class plane seats, and encourage (where possible) staying at Irish embassies and consulates, rather than hotels.

Research shows, however, that these rules are not universally followed, with ministers and their staff frequently availing of hotel rooms in cities with consular accommodation, as well as business-class, long-haul plane tickets.

In the lifetime of the Fine Gael-Labour government, which took office in February 2011, the single most expensive St Patrick’s Day expedition so far was Enda Kenny’s 2013 trip to the US, the only country he has visited on our national holiday, as Taoiseach.

Source: Figures: Dept of the Taoiseach, Image: Web Summit via Flickr

The details (some provided to TheJournal.ie by the Department of the Taoiseach, others found here), show that apart from use of the government jet, Enda Kenny and his entourage spent most on car hire.

They used companies such as Focus Limousines and Carey International while in Los Angeles, and spent €2,656 on car hire for just one day (March 22) in Seattle.

Some €9,259 was spent on accommodation in places like Fitzpatrick’s Hotel in Manhattan, and the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose (pictured below).

The Taoiseach’s delegation – including his chief of staff, private secretary, special adviser and programme manager – kept costs low in LA and Washington, however, by availing of consular accommodation in those cities.

Fountains The Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, California. Source: the_tahoe_guy

Official photography cost €2,236, while hiring a telephone landline and IT equipment in Washington contributed €2,171 to the overall bill.

There was a €593 plane ticket for the Taoiseach’s wife Fionnuala Kenny, who flew home from Washington a few days earlier than the rest of the group, and Kenny’s Chief of Staff Mark Kennelly charged €25 for a new charger for his Blackberry.

Official figures also show that while the coalition’s spending has more than doubled since 2011 – when austerity led to a stripped down programme of visits – it pales in comparison to that of the previous government.

Information provided at the time after a Freedom of Information request from RTÉ, showed that in 2007 alone, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s government racked up €560,000 in flights, car hire, hotels and “subsistence” expenses.

Taking into account the cost of using the Gulfstream jet (€55,125), that year’s total bill was a staggering €615,125, including Transport Minister Noel Dempsey’s €75,000 trip to Texas and California.

adjusted20072015 Source: Images: Photocall Ireland

In 2008, overall spending hit €445,242.

The following year, expense scandals and a new Department of Finance circular prompted a cutback on foreign travel costs, including a ban on first-class flights, and (in general) ministers bringing their spouses on official visits.

Globe-trotters

Spare a thought for Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald. By the time she comes home from Indonesia and Singapore this year, she’ll have clocked more than 67,000 miles in Paddy’s Day travel since 2011.

That makes her the most travelled of any Minister or Minister of State, including the Taoiseach, since the Fine Gael/Labour coalition took office.

Here she is, along the rest of the government’s top five world travellers:

passportfitzgerald Source: DFA/Photocall Ireland

passporthowlin Source: DFA/Photocall Ireland

passportkenny Source: DFA/Photocall Ireland

passportvaradkar Source: DFA/Photocall Ireland

passportkehoe Source: DFA/Photocall Ireland

For a comprehensive breakdown of all ministers’ St Patrick’s Day trips from 2011 to 2015, click here.

Hot spots

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the most popular destinations for St Patrick’s Day visits by this government are either the home of major trading partners, or have seen significant Irish emigration.

Hence New York, which has been the site of eight separate ministerial trips since March 2011, comes out at the top of the list, along with London (seven) and Washington DC (six).

Somewhat surprisingly, government ministers have visited Italy six times, more than European neighbours Germany and France (five and four), and recent emigration hotspots like Australia and New Zealand (five each).

For a comprehensive list of St Patrick’s Day destinations from 2011 to 2015, click here.

populardestinations

Read: In full – Where our ministers are going for St Patrick’s Day…>

Opinion: Ministers sell Ireland around Paddy’s Day to secure jobs. Why the begrudgery?>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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