File photo of business class seats on a plane. Shutterstock/Aureliy
Travel Expenses

Oireachtas spent over €207,000 on overseas travel in last 10 months

The cost includes more than €9,200 on business class flights to Paraguay for two senators.

THE OIREACHTAS SPENT more than €207,000 on overseas travel for TDs and senators in the last 10 months.

The cost includes over €9,200 on business class flights to Paraguay for two senators last September, the most expensive flights booked for members of the Oireachtas in that time period. 

Over €47,000 was spent on 13 separate long-haul flights for travel as part of what is known as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The most expensive flights booked were business class trips to Paraguay for Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee and Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway.

Their trip to Asunción in September to attend the Sixth Global Conference of Young MPs cost a total of €9,204 in airfares.

The conference focused on climate change, growing social unrest and “the sharing of policies and creative practices that promote well-being and happiness with a focus on how such policies and practices contribute to youth empowerment”, according to the IPU

Young parliamentarians from all over the world were invited to attend as they “can play a critical role in amplifying the voices of young people and translating their interests into concrete action”.

When asked about the cost of the flights, Clifford-Lee told the Oireachtas made the travel arrangements.

“A couple of different options were given to us and, from what I can remember, it was the cheapest option and we went with it,” she said. 

Clifford-Lee said she did not believe it was a last-minute booking, adding: “They were the flights that we presented to us, it’s a difficult place to get to.”

Conway reiterated this, telling us: “The Oireachtas booked the tickets, it was nothing to do with me. They always make an effort to get the best price.

“Paraguay is a particularly difficult place to get to, as a result of that the options were limited, we have no control over that.”

Conway noted that the pair were in Paraguay from 8-10 September, travelling for about 24 hours either side of that, via Dublin, Madrid in Spain and Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Irish parliamentarians have also attended the same conference in previous years. In 2017, the international event was held in Canada, and in 2018 it was in Azerbaijan.

The FOI also showed that Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, led a three-person delegation on a trip to Nepal in September with flights for him, Senator Catherine Noone, and independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan costing a combined €11,539.

Another €10,583 was paid out for flights to Tokyo for three Oireachtas members to attend the Women Political Leaders Global Forum conference in June.

€15,739 was spent to send five parliamentarians to Doha in Qatar for the general assembly of the IPU in April.

Each of the flights for Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, Fianna Fáil’s Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher and James Lawless, Fine Gael’s Tim Lombard, and independent Senator Gerard Craughwell cost €3,147.

A further €695 was spent at the Tropical Medical Bureau providing them with inoculations for their travel, while €4,455 was spent on hotels for the six-night trip.

Expenses of €5,483 were paid to the group on their return from Qatar, €1,157 to O’Reilly and Gallagher, €1,004 to Lombard, €1,057 to Lawless, and €968 to Craughwell.

€522-per-night hotel 

The Oireachtas also spent €522 per night to host three TDs in a luxury hotel in Canada for an international committee on fake news and disinformation.

The €3,132 bill at the renowned Fairmont Chateau Laurier covered two nights of accommodation for Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton, and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who did not in the end travel. €7,154 in total was spent on the trip.

More than €5,000 was paid out for travel that ultimately never took place including Ryan’s cancelled trip to Canada.

A spokeswoman for the Oireachtas said: “We may recoup the cost where members don’t travel. Non-travel may happen at the last minute due to parliamentary business here and in particular where no [vote] pairing arrangement is available.”

When asked for comment, Ryan said: “I couldn’t go in the end – it was during the European elections and the counts ran on. I was not able to go. I wasn’t aware that the costs had been incurred.”

Lawless, who did travel, said he had not been aware of the €522 per night cost of the hotel room and said breakfast had not even been provided as part of the rate.

“It certainly looked expensive but it’s the officials who make all of those arrangements and we just basically turn up,” he said.

“I thought it was a hugely valuable trip, really excellent and I made a lot of useful connections. Some of that work is still ongoing,” Lawless said, adding that the UK delegation also stayed at the same hotel.

The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is one of the most famous hotels in Canada and is located close to the parliament buildings, and overlooks the Rideau Canal. It has just completed a multi-million-dollar guest room renovation to add to the “regal elegance that is synonymous with the hotel”.

A spokeswoman for the Oireachtas said it was “chosen based on recommendation by the Embassy and due to its proximity to the Canadian Parliament”.

The Oireachtas also ran up €1,645 in costs on a trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen that was cancelled in November of this year.

Four flights – each costing an average of around €385 – had been booked for the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport trip, while a small hotel cancellation charge also had to be paid.

Denis O’Donovan, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, travelled abroad on four occasions, according to the records.

He visited Vienna in April, Paris in June, and Belgrade in October as part of parliamentary trips and also attended the inauguration of the new emperor of Japan in October.

Flights for his trip to Japan cost €4,453 but hotel costs were “paid by [the] host”.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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