Which counties have the highest rates of marriage breakdown and where are divorce and judicial separation least likely?

COUNTY Carlow was the divorce capital of Ireland in 2015, according to the latest figures on marital breakdown from the Courts Service.

There were 68 divorce applications in the county last year, which was enough to give Carlow the highest rate in the Republic last year at around 120 applications per 100,000 people (based on Census 2016 figures).

Of less a surprise was the fact that Dublin was in second place with 1,552 applications for divorce last year, or one third of the national total (a rate of 115 applications per 100,000).

Next highest were Galway and Waterford, the only other two counties with a rate of divorce application higher than 100.

The rate of applications for divorce in counties like Carlow and Dublin is almost three times higher than in those counties with the lowest rates.

The figures showed that Monaghan and Donegal had the happiest marriages last year, with 42 and 50 applications for divorce per 100,000 people respectively.

In some of the smaller counties, the number of divorce applications could be counted on the fingers of both hands with just eight in Longford last year and six in Leitrim.

Overall, there were 4,290 divorce applications last year with 3,264 cases granted according to records compiled by the Courts Service from the circuit court.

A very small number of cases (it was 24 in 2014) are also dealt with by the High Court each year with the possibility also of cases reaching the Supreme Court.

Also recorded in the figures were the break-up of 75 civil partnerships – the effective precursor to same-sex marriage, which was introduced just five years ago.

The amount of such partnerships ending almost doubled last year from 38 in 2014 to 75, and it was Dublin which made up the bulk of the cases.

However, there were some odd spikes in certain counties like Tipperary and Kerry, which together recorded 18 of the 75 applications last year.

Many counties recorded none at all, including Roscommon, which famously was the only constituency in Ireland to vote no in last year’s marriage referendum.

Another 33 people applied for “nullity”, according to the figures, which is a declaration that the marriage was null and void and effectively had never happened.

However, no details of what these cases involved are provided but among the reasons why this would be allowed are lack of capacity, lack of consent, or that one or other party was “incapable of sexual intercourse”.

Despite the fact that divorce has been available now for more than two decades, many couples still choose to end their marriage by way of judicial separation.

Last year, 1,384 couples went down this road, which made up almost one quarter of all the applications for a formal break-up.

The counties where judicial separation was more popular are quite different from divorce with Kildare leading the way here.

Interestingly, the rate of application for judicial separation in Monaghan (39 per 100,000) was almost the same as that for divorce (42 per 100,000).

When applications for divorce and judicial separation are combined, Dublin has the highest rate of marriage breakdown ahead of Carlow and Galway.

Judicial separation can offer a simpler and less expensive way of allowing husbands and wives to part, particularly where they have no intention of remarrying.

Currently, couples must be separated for four years before qualifying for divorce although there is a proposal to reduce this to two years.

A private member’s bill has been put forward by Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan, a former family law solicitor, and appears to have gained widespread support.

In a statement, the Courts Service said: “Like all our courts, family law courts are not just busy, they also reflect what is going on throughout society: where the country and people are at.

“This is as clear in family law courts as in other venues which might deal with commerce, business, or debt. All courts are presented and deal with every aspect of human endeavour, disagreements, and frailty: none more so than the family law courts.”

My calculations based on the provisional figures from Census 2016:

divorce-stats

The full set of figures from the Courts Service are available here:

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Department of Taoiseach refuse Minister Charlie Flanagan’s request for €90k flight on government jet to Mongolia

FOREIGN Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan had his wings clipped by the Department of the Taoiseach after requesting use of the government jet for an epic voyage to a conference in Asia.

Mr Flanagan had sought use of the government’s €3,780-an-hour Learjet for a trip to Ulaanbaatar, which would have involved no less than eight separate individual flights.

The minister was planning to attend an Asia-Europe conference in Mongolia but was in a rush back to Europe to attend a meeting in Brussels, FOI documents have shown.

To try and fit both events in, the Department of Foreign Affairs came up with a convoluted flight plan which would have taken Mr Flanagan first to Finland, before two separate stop-overs in Russia, before final arrival in Mongolia fourteen hours later.

The government’s only executive aircraft – an €8 million Learjet – has a flying range that brings it just three hours in the air before it requires refuelling.

However, the proposal was refused by the Department of the Taoiseach and Mr Flanagan instead had to take scheduled flights to the event.

According to a proposed itinerary, Mr Flanagan would have left Baldonnel in Dublin at midnight on July 14 before flying for three hours to the Finnish capital Helsinki.

The aircraft would then refuel before taking off again and flying three hours east to the Russian city of Skytyvkar for a second stop-off.

The Learjet was then to be filled up again before departing on its next leg to Novosibirsk, also in Russia, where it would make its final layover on the long journey.

From there, it would be one final flight to Ulaanbaatar with arrival at 10pm local time for the summit, which was itself going to last just fifteen hours.

On the return voyage, the same arrangements were planned, which based on the Learjet’s hourly operating cost means the flight would have cost in excess of €90,000.

A permission request from the Department of Foreign Affairs explained how scheduled flights to Mongolia were “extremely limited”.

“The best available option would involve approximately 45 hours travel time, with the summit itself lasting 15 hours,” the request explained.

“Travelling by government jet would involve 26 hours travel time (including refuelling stops) … the Air Corps have been consulted and are confident that the proposal to travel by government jet is quite feasible.”

The Department also explained how Minister Flanagan was due back in Brussels not long after for a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers with the US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“This further limits commercial options,” they said. “Given the importance of the … summit and the complexity and limitations of commercial travel options, permission is kindly requested for use of the government jet.”

The Department of the Taoiseach do not however, appear to have been convinced by the case made and would not sanction use of the Learjet.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Minister Flanagan normally uses commercial airlines for official travel whenever possible.

In a statement, they said: “Use of the government jet is only considered when commercial options would impact significantly on the minister’s ability to fulfil his commitments internationally and domestically.

“In this case, permission for use of the government jet was sought but refused. Minister Flanagan therefore used scheduled, commercial flights for a Dublin-Istanbul-Bishbek-Ulaanbaatar and Ulaanbaatar-Beijing-Brussels round trip with a total travel time of some 34 hours.”

The Department of the Taoiseach said applications were judged according to the relative cost of travel versus possible scheduled alternatives.

They also take into account the need for flexibility for ministers who need to return home for Cabinet meetings, or important Dáil or Seanad debates.

A spokesman said: “It is not the practice to comment on specific applications from ministers for the use of the jet.”

The majority of requests for the government jet are granted, records released by the Department of the Taoiseach show.

Between March this year and early September, the Learjet was signed off for use on sixteen occasions by three different ministers: Michael Noonan, Frances Fitzgerald, and Charlie Flanagan.

On four occasions, requested flights did not go ahead for a variety of reasons, due to cancellation of travel plans and in the case of the proposed trip to Mongolia.

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TDs call for report into how much was lost through inheritance tax loophole for the wealthy

A FULL investigation into how much the Exchequer has lost through an inheritance tax loophole used by the wealthy has been called for by Opposition TDs.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has moved to tighten up legislation to stop high-wealth individuals handing over valuable properties to their children without paying a single cent in tax.

The loophole, the existence of which was first publicly revealed in a series of stories in the Sunday Times and on this blog earlier this year, has been in wide use for more than a decade and was being recommended by some wealth managers to their clients as a way to avoid inheritance tax.

After details of how the exemption was being abused were made public, it had been anticipated that the Department of Finance would move to close it down in this year’s Budget.

It did not appear though in the original version of the Finance Bill with one report saying it had been put on the “back-burner”.

However, the FOI documents relating to its widespread abuse were raised in the Dáil by three TDs this month: Independents Joan Collins and Tommy Broughan, and Labour’s Joan Burton.

Under pressure to explain why it had not been tackled, the Department of Finance added an amendment to the Finance Bill this week.

Now, Labour’s Joan Burton has tabled an amendment seeking a full report on the scale of abuse of the exemption.

She has looked for the Department of Finance to publish a report within a month of the Finance Bill being passed on how it has been used as a “means of avoiding inheritance tax”.

Joan Collins TD said she wanted the report to go further and examine how much has been lost and why previous opportunities were not taken to close it.

Ms Collins said: “I think we need to look back at the scale of this. We need to find out why this was created in the first place – who opened it up and allowed it to be abused.

“What’s really frustrating is that there were opportunities to close this down and it should have been tackled a long time ago.

“There is a huge public interest in finding out how much money has been lost over the years and in looking at why these loopholes were allowed in the first place.”

In a statement, the Department of Finance said they did not believe a further report into the operation of the scheme was warranted.

They said: “When the issue of the dwelling house exemption, and the possibility that it was being used as a means of tax-efficient wealth transfer, was raised with the Minister he asked that empirical evidence be gathered to assess this. Revenue carried out an investigation of the use of the exemption for this purpose.

“Informed by this report the Minister introduced an amendment to the Finance Bill at Committee Stage.”

They said that the investigation by Revenue had “conservatively” estimated the total loss to the exchequer at almost €19 million over the period from 2011 to 2015.

They said: “As this investigation has been carried out, and a significant modification of the exemption has been included in the Finance Bill, a further historical report regarding [its use] … would not seem to be warranted.”

The move to close off the loophole came after widespread evidence was gathered over a number of years by both the Department of Finance and Revenue Commissioners that the exemption was being “much abused”.

Earlier this year, a whistleblower from the wealth management industry met with Departmental officials to warn them of the scale of its misuse.

He told them in that previous eighteen months, use of the exemption had “taken off” and cited one case where parents had bought each of their four children properties worth in excess of €1 million and gifted them entirely tax-free.

The loophole could have been closed in 2014 when a detailed submission was prepared for Minister Michael Noonan warning him about the tax avoidance.

However, Minister Noonan – for reasons not explained in the official records – opted not to act then and the submission seeking change is bluntly marked “No”.

You can read more about this story here, here, and here.

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New disciplinary code for civil service because it was so difficult to fire or even discipline under-performing workers

A NEW disciplinary code for the civil service was introduced because it was proving so difficult to manage under-performance, and almost unheard of for someone to actually get fired for sub-par work.

The new code, which will come into full effect in January, comes after a major review found the old regime was no longer fit for purpose.

Internal documents obtained under FOI reveal how managers found the old code “complex and lacking clarity”. They said it was cumbersome, difficult to operate effectively and that the disciplinary process had far too many steps and stages.

A briefing document explained how there was an incredibly low number of employees cited for underperformance as part of the Performance Management and Development Scheme (PMDS) in place throughout the public service.

“Dismissals solely as a result of underperformance do not generally [take] place,” it explained.

This was because there were so many “serious weaknesses” in the existing code and managers ended up reluctant to take any action at all.

Even when employees were being investigated for “serious misconduct”, managers ran into extreme difficulties in sanctioning them.

The briefing document for the renewal of the code said departments and public bodies had difficulty in determining how to go about an investigation.

There were difficulties in coming up with a reasonable timeframe and little guidance available where there is a “frustration of the process or there are criminal proceedings taking place”.

The appeals process, through the Disciplinary Appeals Board, was also criticised because under-performing or misbehaving workers were allowed to appeal both before and after they were sanctioned.

The document explained: “In addition, the Board can make recommendations to remedy what they believe to be too harsh a sanction.

“This presents a challenge where a remedy such as transferring an individual rather than dismissing them can be nearly impossible for an employer to deliver.”

It even said there were significant issues with getting rid of employees who were entirely incapable of doing their job in the first place.

“They may have been dealt with as an underperformance case. However, the reality is that they are not able to bring performance up to the required level for the role,” it explained.

“In these circumstances discipline is not appropriate and a policy under which people can be exited due to incapacity or capability should be put in place.”

The briefing document also explained how many managers were reluctant even to try to discipline or deal with underperforming staff.

It said they feared demoralising other staff, lacked the confidence to go through the process, or had previously tried disciplining somebody without success. These managers were said to have “no appetite to repeat this experience”.

Some staff were also using weaknesses in the code to take advantage, particularly one which allowed their record to be scrubbed clean after six months.

In some cases, they were given a verbal warning but if their performance improved over the next six months, the warning would be stricken from their file.

“They have had the satisfactory improvement in the six months’ timeframe and the record of the warning has been removed only for them to repeat shortly after the ‘offence’ or unwanted behaviour only to go back to Stage 1 again,” it said.

They said this happened throughout the disciplinary process and the person “rarely gets to the ultimate sanction”.

In other instances, managers would end up under scrutiny after starting the disciplinary process because the employee involved would file a grievance or go out on long term sick leave.

In one case, an employee escaped discipline on a technicality because under the rules, they were entitled to be given a copy of the disciplinary code at every single stage of the process.

“A case was lost because the Department did not furnish the staff member with the Code at each stage,” it said.

In a ministerial submission, the low rate of dismissals for disciplinary matter or under-performance was also highlighted.

Over the course of seven years, 32 people had been dismissed from their jobs, of whom 25 resigned before they could be sacked.

Figures for how many cases were shot down by the Disciplinary Appeals Board also reveal that of 63 appeals made from 2007 to 2015, 23 were not upheld.

An internal memo also reveals there were difficulties in agreeing new policies on under-performance with a “fundamental difference” between management and staff on how it would be introduced.

The Department of Public Expenditure said in a statement: “We know that to get the best from our workforce, effective management of performance across the sector, in addition to career-long investment in learning and development supports, is needed.”

They said the new code was part of developing a “stronger framework for managing underperformance and disciplinary issues” and was required based on feedback from staff and managers over the “perceived failure to manage underperformance”.

You can read the most interesting of the documents below. If anybody is interested in seeing the rest of the material, feel free to contact me and I can forward on.

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€5.8 million in lump sums and pensions for TDs and Senators who retired or lost seats at last general election

EIGHTY-eight politicians who either retired or lost their seat after the last general election have shared a €5.8 million bonanza in pension and termination payments since.

The figures – obtained following a Freedom of Information request to the Oireachtas – reveal that 29 retired politicians have received golden handshakes worth over €2.7 million in the form of pension lump sums.

Another €1.13 million was paid out to 86 politicians in what is known as a termination lump sum, which is paid to those of pension age but also younger politicians who have lost or vacated their seats.

A total of €1.75 million has been paid out in termination pay, which is a step-down payment for departing TDs and Senators that can be paid for up to a year depending on length of service.

A much smaller amount of just over €188,000 has been paid to the recently departed politicians in ordinary pension payments.

The actual pension payments have been small so far because most of the ex-politicians have only just moved onto the regular pension roll, having been in receipt of termination pay for the first six months after leaving Dáil and Seanad Éireann.

The beneficiaries of the more than €2.7 million in pension lump sums include several former ministers from both Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

It is open to former politicians to gift or refund parts of their pension payments and some have chosen to do so in the past.

However, the Oireachtas does not release details of such gifting under FOI as they consider it to be personal information relating to the individual politician.

According to the records released, former TD Emmett Stagg has been paid just over €215,000 by the Oireachtas since the general election in March.

That includes a lump sum of €158,509 paid after 29 consecutive years of service in the Dáil until he lost his seat in Kildare North earlier this year.

Also included is a termination lump sum of €15,929, termination pay of €35,815, and pension payments to date of €5,207.

In addition, Mr Stagg is also entitled to a ministerial pension, which is paid separately by the Department of Finance and covers his time as an officeholder.

The second highest payments are listed for Fine Gael TD Dan Neville, with just over €209,000 in payments recorded including a lump sum of just over €153,000.

Also listed in the records as receiving in excess of €200,000 is the former Fianna Fáil TD John Browne. He is also entitled to a separate ministerial pension.

The fourth highest payment recorded was to former Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte who is listed as having been paid just over €196,000.

That included a lump sum of €143,000 and Mr Rabbitte also is entitled to a separate Department of Finance pension for his several stints as a minister.

Payments in excess of €190,000 are also listed as having been made to five other former politicians by the Oireachtas.

They were: Labour’s Ruairi Quinn (€190,628), Fianna Fáil’s Seamus Kirk (€194,348), Fianna Fáil’s Michael Kitt (€194,120), Fine Gael’s Dinny McGinley (€194,000), and Labour’s Eamon Gilmore (€190,706).

Four of them would also be entitled to separate ministerial pensions from the Department of Finance. Mr Kitt is not however, not having served as a minister but he was the Leas-Ceann Comhairle for his last five years in Leinster House.

Former Fine Gael TD John Perry, who was back in the headlines this week after a settlement agreement over €2.47 million in debt from Danske Bank broke down, is also listed.

According to the Oireachtas, Mr Perry has received just over €180,000 in termination and pension payments since March.

That was made up of €137,292 in a pension lump sum, a termination lump sum of €15,059, termination pay of €5,647 and €23,210 in his pension.

He would also be entitled to a small annual pension from the Department of Finance from when he served as junior minister at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

The Top Fifteen Payments

oireachtas-pensions

A statement from the Oireachtas said: “The payments made are in accordance with the rules and regulations of the contributory pension scheme for members. Members also pay the Public Service Pension Related Deduction in addition to the 13% for the pension scheme.”

In a separate note, they said all payments were gross figures and that net payments may be “significantly lower” after deductions.

They also said pension is only payable after termination pay has ended and the two types of payment cannot be received at the same time.

All of the monthly termination payments and normal pension payments are subject to the rates of tax, PRSI, and other levies that would apply to all other taxpayers.

The termination lump sum is treated as a redundancy payment for tax purposes and is also subject to PRSI, according to Oireachtas guidelines.

The pension lump sum however, is tax-free within Revenue rules with tax only kicking in on amounts that exceed €200,000.

Two provisos to the picture above and the data below. There are instances where TDs with long public service (in for instance education) served just a single term in the Oireachtas so any calculations below reflect both the previous job and their political career.

Similarly, there are a couple of cases where lump sums would have been previously paid to TDs if say they had lost their seat before and regained it at a subsequent election.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times and the Irish Mail on Sunday.

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Inheritance Tax loophole used by wealthy to be closed off

So it seems that the Department of Finance has bowed to growing public pressure and made moves to close off the inheritance tax loophole that was being abused by the wealthy.

In today’s Irish Independent, Charlie Weston has reported the loophole will be shut but we await some of the finer detail of how exactly this will work.

This is an enormous victory for Freedom of Information legislation.

This loophole has been rampantly abused for close to a decade with both the Department of Finance and Revenue Commissioners aware of cases where wealthy individuals were handing over properties sometimes worth well in excess of €1 million to their sons and daughters entirely tax-free.

It got kicked to touch in last year’s budget discussions as first revealed in the Sunday Times. You can read about it here and here and the warnings from an industry whistleblower that abuse of it was “taking off”.

And it looked like the same thing was going to happen this year when the Sunday Business Post reported that it had been put on the “back-burner” in the immediate aftermath of Budget 2017.

Now it looks like there has been a change of heart. Thanks to TDs Joan Collins, Joan Burton and Tommy Broughan for raising this issue in the Dáil.

Others including Labour’s Alan Kelly were also planning to query why nothing was being done and clearly putting it on the “back-burner” was no longer an option.

It will be important to keep a close eye on how exactly the change is made, whether there is any delay, and if the loophole has been entirely shut.

One thing we know for certain is that the wealthy and their tax advisers will also be studying this closely to see if the door has been fully closed on it.

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More diplomatic spending – €59,000 for a new Mercedes for Ambassador to UAE & €165,000 for an armoured vehicle in Ramallah

THE Department of Foreign Affairs paid €165,000 for an armoured vehicle for Ireland’s most senior diplomat based in Palestine.

The Toyota Land Cruiser was bought last year to replace the ten-year-old vehicle that was previously used to drive Ireland’s Representative in Ramallah Jonathan Conlon.

The car was bought from Stoof International – a major manufacturer of armoured and specialty vehicles, which is based in Germany.

The vehicle was purchased via the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv in Israel with a down-payment of €66,000 made last year, and the remaining €99,000 to be paid at a later date.

The armoured vehicle was one of ten high-end cars purchased by the Department last year at a cost of over €400,000 to the taxpayer.

That also included four BMWs, three Mercedes, a Volkswagen, and perhaps fittingly for the Irish Embassy in Stockholm, a Volvo.

The most expensive car by some distance was bought in the United Arab Emirates where €59,089 was spent on a Mercedes Benz E300.

The car, in obsidian black with a silk beige leather interior, was bought from the Emirates Motor Company in Abu Dhabi, and replaced a vehicle that had been bought in 2009.

Among the extras it came with was a “panoramic sliding sunroof”, a DVD player, a brown ash wood trim, and the fitting of an E Class flag pole costing €2,200 so that the tricolour could be displayed when driving on the city and desert roads.

In Saudi Arabia, €45,420 was spent on another Mercedes Benz, this time an E200 CGI. In a letter to the Irish Embassy in Riyadh, the local dealership wrote: “We, at Juffali Automotive Company, are deeply honoured by your interest in our range of Mercedes Benz passenger cars.”

In China, two separate BMW limousines were purchased, one each for the Embassy in Beijing and for the Consulate General in Shanghai.

In the Chinese capital, just over €32,000 was spent on a BMW 520i from the manufacturer’s luxury line.  The Black Sapphire metallic car featured a “leather Dakota Veneto Beige exclusive stitching” interior, a sport leather steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels and a wood trim in “fineline anthracite”.

Meanwhile in Shanghai, a slightly better deal was secured for another BMW 520i and it cost just under €31,000 in part because of a summer discount of €2,500. The car was shipped from the German port of Bremerhaven at a cost of €1,650 and came with a €720 pennant holder.

In the Norwegian capital, a BMW 528I XDrive Limousine was purchased for just over €28,000 and came with the same pennant holder, and also featured a €287 seat heating system for the driver and front passenger to help ease them through the freezing Oslo winter.

Other diplomatic car purchases last year included €31,115 for a BMW in Thailand, and just over €30,000 for a Mercedes in Turkey.

The Department did opt for cars other than BMW and Mercedes in some countries. In Stockholm for instance, they purchased a home-made Swedish Volvo S80 for €33,954.

It came with a “diplomat package”, Volvo’s IntelliSafe Pro system, diplomatic registration plates, a €340 flag pole, and what was described as a €225 dark walnut inscription.

In Mexico, a different approach was also taken and a Volkswagen Passat was bought for 423,990 pesos, which at current exchange rate works out at just over €20,000 but appears from separate records released under FOI to have cost more.

The money was part of the more than €1.5 million spent by the Department of Foreign Affairs on official vehicles last year.

That included just over €754,000 for new vehicles at locations around the world and a further €746,000 for “car costs” including fuel, maintenance, and other similar bills.

The Department said: “Mission staff are required to undertake a good deal of travel in the performance of their official functions. This ranges from city journeys throughout the day and in the evening to long journeys of up to several hundred miles by road.

“As well as demanding schedules, in many cases there are also issues related to limited availability of public transport, security considerations etc.”

They said vehicles were purchased by local staff following sanction from Departmental headquarters in Dublin, and that steps were taken to ensure the “market is tested”.

The Department said it was policy that official cars are only purchased or replaced if necessary, for safety and security reasons, or where costs of maintenance and operating was no longer economical.

They said there had been a higher level of vehicle purchase in 2015 because replacement had been deferred in previous years due to the “difficult budgetary situation pertaining at that time”.

Full set of invoices below

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The bill for furnishing our embassies and ambassador residences: €10,000 for curtains, dining tables costing €11,000, and €5,500 for a walnut sideboard

A DINING table costing almost €11,000, curtains worth over €10,000, and two book cases – each costing €3,600 – were among just some of the hand-made furniture and interior items purchased by the taxpayer for embassies and ambassadorial residences last year.

The Department of Foreign Affairs spent over €200,000 kitting out diplomatic buildings in the cities of Jakarta, Zagreb, and Vienna in 2015.

The decoration of the embassies and official residences in Indonesia, Croatia, and Austria were three of the largest projects last year with well over €300,000 spent on furniture and fittings in a variety of locations.

In April of last year, more than €49,000 was spent on a selection of hand-made items for the embassy building in Jakarta, Indonesia.

That included €9,000 for a cherry table, €7,200 for two glazed cherry book cases, and another €7,200 for four “pedestal oak desks”.

A cherry sideboard was also purchased for €2,200 with €800 paid out for each of four oak side tables, according to the records.

In all, the invoice came to more than €60,000 after VAT was added on … although the added tax of €11,000 at least goes back to the Exchequer.

A month later – another €54,870 was paid out on a single invoice for furniture for Indonesia, this time for the official residence of the Ambassador in Jakarta.

It included an oak dining table costing €10,800, 24 oak chairs each costing €480 each, and three separate oak display units at a price of €3,900 each.

Also purchased were an oak sideboard costing €2,400, two hall tables for €3,400, and eight coffee tables each costing €850.

Finally, ten lamp tables were also ordered at a cost of €8,250, which brought the final bill to more than €67,000 after VAT was included.

In March, €39,020 was spent on furniture for the embassy building in Zagreb, including €3,950 paid out for a cherry desk.

A cherry table cost €7,200, with two glazed bookcases costing another €7,200 combined. Side tables, a conference table, and almost €13,500 for 29 chairs brought the final bill to €47,994.60 when VAT was added on to it.

Two items were later purchased for the Ambassador’s residence in Zagreb from a different furniture firm, Dunleavy Bespoke in Co Kildare.

As part of that order, €5,500 was paid for a walnut sideboard while €2,800 went on a walnut bookcase, making for a total bill (including VAT) of €10,209.

To redecorate the residence of the Austrian Ambassador, just over €20,000 was paid out to an upmarket Viennese interiors firm Joseph Stary.

That included almost €10,000 paid out for curtains for the official residence on Theresianumgasse, which is close to Vienna’s famous Belvedere palaces and gardens and is rented at a cost of almost €9,000 per month.

The curtain bill was made up of €6,237 for decorating the main hall, another €1,732 for the library and a further €2,079 for the dining room.

Of the money that was spent on furniture, more than €160,000 was paid to one company FitzGerald’s of Kells, records released following a Freedom of Information request show.

The company say on their website that they have secured a “blue-chip international and domestic client base”.

“We have supplied furniture to Irish embassies throughout the world including Madrid, Tokyo, Prague, Kuala Lumpur, Bonn, London, New York and Tel Aviv,” they say.

FitzGerald’s describe themselves as “architectural woodworkers” and with a reputation for producing the highest quality of furniture.

Also released under FOI by the Department was a €5,700 hotel bill for an official visit of the President of Germany Joachim Gauck to Ireland in July 2015.

While in Dublin, the President was a guest at the state-owned Farmleigh House but the delegation was later put up for a night at Glenlo Abbey Hotel in Galway.

Eighteen rooms in the hotel were booked for the visit with three separate grand suites reserved at a cost of €459 per night.

In a note explaining the costs, the Department said: “A state visit is the highest level of official visit … during a state visit, the Irish side cover some of the costs arising, including the accommodation of the visiting Head of State and up to 15 members of the visiting delegation. This is in line with the practice of many of our international partners.”

Explaining the exorbitant cost of the furniture, they said: “The Department provides an efficient, effective and comprehensive range of services abroad on behalf of the Irish government, to businesses and citizens, while also proactively watching costs and seeking to provide value for money.

“The official premises managed abroad by the Department – both embassy offices and official accommodation – are essential platforms for providing … services to our citizens and Irish business, and promoting Ireland.

“The primary purpose of these premises is to enable Irish officials to host events which raise economic and cultural opportunities. They also showcase Irish art, design, culture, tourism and food produce on the internationals stage.

“Accordingly, it is essential that our office space and official accommodation present a very positive image of Ireland and its excellent potential as a business partner.”

A version of this article appeared in yesterday’s Irish Daily Mail

Full set of documents below with first invoice covering the cost of fitting out Passport Office in Cork so keep scrolling down for the diplomatic bills

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The minister, the trade mission and a €1,993 hotel bill for a four-night stay

A GOVERNMENT agency has defended paying close to €2,000 for a former minister to spend four nights in a hotel in the United States.

Enterprise Ireland forked out a total of €1,993 for a room at the luxury Seaport Hotel in Boston for then Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.

The room was booked for five nights, even though the accommodation was only required for four, so that Labour TD O’Sullivan would have a place to work for the day.

The room bill was part of more than €32,000 spent by Enterprise Ireland during the education trade mission in May of 2015, which included a hotel bill of more than €18,000.

That covered accommodation for six Enterprise Ireland staff, Minister O’Sullivan, and three of her staff from the Department of Education.

Just over €1,600 was spent on official meals and entertainment with a briefing dinner for the Minister, Boston’s Consul General, and six staff costing almost US$800.

Ms O’Sullivan said that the trip to Boston – and another she undertook last year to China – were to fulfil speaking engagements at major international education conferences.

“I was accompanied by representatives of most of Ireland’s universities and IT’s at each of them, and visited higher education institutions including MIT, Boston College, Peking University to strengthen and expand ties between Irish and US/Chinese 3rd level institutions,” she said.

Invoice with public service staff names blanked out (by me) below

osullivan-bill

The Boston trip was part of more than €1.2 million spent by Enterprise Ireland last year on trade missions involving ministers, of which more than €427,000 was earned straight back through client income and cost recharges.

Much of the costs related to the rental of exhibition space, design, sponsorship, and the hosting of receptions on four different continents.

However, significant costs were also run up on flying a number of ministers to and from events and putting them up in hotels.

On one of the missions to China, then enterprise minister Richard Bruton was put up in the luxury five-star Island Shangri-La hotel in Hong Kong for a single night at a cost of €500.

Enterprise Ireland said there had been particular circumstances surrounding the high bill including a late check-out that had added to the cost.

They also said a €250 surcharge on the room (bringing total cost to €750) had allowed access to a business floor and meeting rooms, which meant they did not have to hire a “meeting room separately”.

bruton-shangri-la

On a separate trip to Dubai, they paid €322 for a room for Mr Bruton to stay a single night at another five-star hotel, the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel.

Enterprise Ireland said the cost had risen because of a late change in scheduling for the ministerial party that had meant staying in Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi.

“As the hotel was already full,” they said, “Enterprise Ireland were unable to secure the corporate rate and had to pay the hotel’s normal rate.”

The minister’s spokesman said all elements of these trips were organised by Enterprise Ireland, and that they booked accommodation and transport.

He said: “Minister Bruton has always emphasised that the cost of trade missions, which have a vital role in creating jobs and growing Irish exports, are kept to a minimum.”

Enterprise Ireland held four separate receptions in Dubai, Riyadh, Doha, and Abu Dhabi on that four-day trade mission at a combined cost of almost €30,000.

On two separate trips for former junior minister Sean Sherlock, the state agency paid out in excess of €300 for a single night at hotels in two different cities.

Sherlock, a Labour TD, was put up at Le Pierre Hotel in Paris for a trade mission at the international air show in the city … the room for the night cost €391.

sherlock-bill

On a separate trip to London for the World Water Tech summit, Mr Sherlock stayed at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel with the room charged at €323 for one night.

Enterprise Ireland said the hotel was five-star, which would “not be the normal class of accommodation” except that an event the minister was attending was being held there.

Mr Sherlock said all of the travel had been organised by Enterprise Ireland. He said: “I’ve always left arrangements for accommodation as a minister to the Department and the [state bodies] … the only request I ever made was that accommodation was booked with a gym or exercise room where possible for exercise.”

Enterprise Ireland said that the presence of government ministers on trade missions added extra “leverage” to build relationships with commercial enterprises.

They said: “[Our] policy is to book the most cost-effective and appropriate flights and hotel accommodation for Ministers when they lead Enterprise Ireland trade missions overseas.”

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State pays astonishing €6,700 per week for rental of home for the Irish Ambassador in New Delhi

THE Irish government is spending an astronomical €29,000-a-month to rent an ambassador’s residence in New Delhi, in a country where hundreds of millions of people live below the poverty line.

The extraordinary rental agreement was signed for a property in the “diplomatic enclave” of New Delhi, the capital of India in January 2013 even as Ireland remained mired in recession.

The revelation is likely to spark further calls for a review of the scale of Ireland’s diplomatic spending after revelations that a luxury apartment for the Irish ambassador in Tokyo was being rented for €46,000-a-month.

In defence of that expenditure, the Department of Foreign Affairs had pointed to the fact that Japan was one of the most expensive countries in the world.

When questions were raised regarding the extraordinary level of expenditure that was taking place in India, they again said rental costs were “very high” in New Delhi.

The monthly cost of the property in local currency is 2.15 million rupees. To give a sense of just how much that is, 75% of Indian people earned less than 5,000 rupees a month in the last major socio-economic census from 2011.

In a statement that took ten days to prepare the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed the monthly rent paid came to €29,409.

Details of payments made in 2015, and which were obtained under FOI, reveal that the annual total last year came to €352,000.

The Department said that as well as the Ambassador, there were embassy employees living on the property. “[It] consists of a house for the Head of Mission and his family and separate living quarters for Embassy staff and dependents,” they said.

The Department said rental costs were sky-high in New Delhi due to the “extremely high demand for property in one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with growth exceeding 7.5% last year”.

They said there was intense competition for suitable properties from both embassies and private sector organisations, national and international.

delhi-residence

The property is located in New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave, an area that is home to dozens of embassies and official residences.

With tree-lined boulevards and none of the bustling traffic so familiar in India, the neighbourhood – which was established in 1950 – is the most affluent in the city.

When it was first built, property was allotted to embassies, chanceries, high commissions and ambassadorial residences with countries including the US, the UK, and Russia all represented there.

As part of its development, an 80-acre park was developed for diplomatic staff while the area is also home to several schools and colleges, including the famous British School and the American Embassy School.

Houses on Sardar Patel Marg, where the Irish residence is located, are generally built on large land plots of between 800 and 1,600 square metres. The area is also home to a string of five-star hotels.

The current lease was signed in January 2013 after the Embassy viewed a number of properties around New Delhi.

They said it was due to expire at the end of the year and that diplomatic staff were “actively engaged” with the landlord to seek savings before the rental agreement was renewed.

“In line with departmental guidelines, the Head of Mission is exploring other suitable options available on the market,” they said.

The Department said that India was a “priority market” for Ireland and that the current property matched all of their criteria.

Among the criteria used for its selection were a central location in a safe and secure area, appropriate floor space for events promoting Ireland, living quarters for the Head of Mission and their family, rent in line with local market rates, and its availability for use by the Embassy and stage agencies for official events.

They said: “So far this year, the Head of Mission has hosted a large range of events promoting Ireland’s strategic interests. In so doing the Embassy has worked with [among others] Enterprise Ireland (and their client companies), the IDA, Education Ireland, Tourism Ireland and UCD.”

Over €4 million was spent last year on homes for Ireland’s ambassadors and consul generals in countries where a property is not owned by the state.

The property in New Delhi, and the €46,000-a-month apartment in Tokyo, are by some distance the two most expensive. Next most costly are the €20,870 paid for a residence in New York and €20,000 for a luxury home with swimming pool in Singapore.

A house in Geneva is rented at a cost of €15,925 per month while another €10,000 is paid out for properties in Helsinki and in Warsaw. The rental bill in at least half five other cities – two properties each in Brussels and Vienna, and one in Bucharest, Vienna, Rome, Paris – is between €5,000 and €9,000.

An edited version of this story appeared originally in the Irish Mail on Sunday.

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