Human Rights Commission spent €320,000 on “fixtures and fittings” including €14,000 for five top-of-the-range TVs and €16,278 for a meeting table

A PUBLIC body spent more than €14,000 on five display televisions as part of a €1.6 million makeover of its city centre offices.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) paid out over €320,000 for “fixtures and fittings” as part of the renovation of three floors of office space in Dublin.

Among the items purchased were a €16,728 meeting table along with €15,153 for twenty-two chairs to go around it.

The chairs each cost almost €690 and were described in invoices as “stick executive high back chairs”. They were bought from the Italian design firm ICF Office.

A “bevel meeting table” was also bought from the same Milanese company. It cost €2,779 and seats six people. With a white top and an oak frame, it is described on the ICF website as “as strong as roots, as sleek as stems”.

Two more ten-seater meeting tables were bought from the German design firm Konig + Neurath, each of them costing €4,108.

The Plenum K tables – at least according to the manufacturer – combine “technical functionality by integrating state-of-the-art media technology, high quality and a superior aesthetic standard for individually-tailored requirements”.

Five two door storage units from Konig + Neurath were bought as well, each coming with a price tag of €1,273. Another forty-four similar units were bought from the same firm, every one of them costing in excess of €1,000.

Also on the tab were two designer Sinetica captain chairs, each of which cost just under €900. The elegant lounge chairs have an oakwood base and are described as a “light and sinuous armchair with an ample and relaxing outline”.

Sinetica were also the design firm of choice for a “diamond exec desk” for the offices, which came with a bill for just under €1,300.

The five televisions purchased were all top of the range high-definition Sony Bravias. Two 75 inch screens were bought for just over €3,950 each, two 65-inch sets for €2,367 each, while a single 55-inch TV costs €1,609.

The Human Rights and Equality Commission also purchased six Quattro tables from the design firm Andreu World. Each of those cost €848.70 with a combined bill of €5,092.

Five sofas, each costing more than €1,300, were bought as well as part of the refurbishment project.

Three of them were bought from the UK-based design firm sixteen3. They came from the Erno line with its “strong rectilinear aesthetic” and are ideal “for breakout, reception and lounge areas”. Individually, they cost between €1,346 and €1,414.

Two more basket sofas – each costing just over €1,500 – were bought from the Danish furniture designers Softline, according to invoices released under FOI.

Other items purchased included four receptionist chairs, each more than €600, a conference room lectern costing €1,992, and five “executive storage credenzas” for a combined €6,672.

Eight “floor cushions”, each costing over €100, ended up costing €836.40 after VAT was included.

Another almost €25,000 was spent on the purchase of 58 “liberty ergonomic office chairs”, according to a table of costs.

The entire refurbishment project cost €1.9 million with just under €150,000 paid out for architectural services and the main bulk of the cost, almost €1.5 million, spent on construction services.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission – an independent public body that is accountable to the Oireachtas – said they had first leased the property on Green Street in 2015.

They said: “[It has] since been refurbished to provide a modern accessible working environment for the Commission’s planned 64 staff.

“The refurbishment project also included the development of a new ground floor facility, which is dedicated to meetings, seminars and events related to human rights and equality, hosted by the Commission and by a diverse range of civil society organisations.”

In their response to the FOI request, they said they would not be releasing details of the supplier of the furniture as disclosure could cause them a financial loss or “prejudice [their] competitive position”.

 

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Despite one of the lowest betting taxes in the world, government opted not to increase tax because of job loss warning from bookies

FINANCE Minister Paschal Donohoe kicked to touch on doubling tax on betting amid warnings of jobs losses from the Irish bookmaking industry.

The Department of Finance had presented three options that could have raised up to €50 million extra from bookies or punters as part of a review of betting tax.

However, Mr Donohoe decided he would leave the 1% rate of tax well alone and reconsider the increase in next year’s budget.

The Department had received multiple submissions from the betting industry who had warned an extension of the tax could be “potentially damaging”.

They said it could lead to closure of businesses and job losses, with a “particularly stark” risk for individual or smaller operators.

A submission for Minister Donohoe said: “A total of 13 submissions were received. Of these, 8 were from the betting/gaming industry, 2 were from the horse racing industry, one from the addiction advocacy service and two from individuals.

“Follow on meetings were held with six of these at their request.”

The Departmental submission explained that there was “ongoing pressure” to increase the tax on betting, which is among the lowest in the world.

Minister Donohoe was told there were three options open to him, the first simply to increase the rate from 1% to 2%. It would have raised an additional €50 million but was being resisted by the bookmaking industry.

The second option was to tax the punter, which the Department said would come with its own set of risks.

“[There is] the possibility of punters seeking out alternative untaxed forms of betting or a move towards unlicensed operators,” the submission explained.

It would also be complicated by having to tax betting exchanges such as Betfair where tax is currently based on the commission charged.

The minister was also told that other countries had suffered a “negative experience” when they tried to tax the punter.

The last option suggested a special tax on the gross profits of bookmaking firms. Paddy Power Betfair for instance had operating profits of UK£91 million in the first quarter of 2017.

The submission explained: “There is no doubt that a move to gross profits would be of advantage to business as the level of tax payable will change in response to margins.

“From a revenue point of view there is less stability around the yield of the tax and it is more susceptible to changes in the trade environment.”

However, Minister Donohoe was told that such a gross profits tax would require “significant additional work” before it could be introduced.

The minister was also told that even if extra revenue was earned from betting taxes, there was an expectation by some that it would go directly to the horse and greyhound industry.

“In the context of the historical link between betting revenues and the funding of the … industry, any increase in betting receipts will be seen by some in the industry as being earmarked for the Horse and Greyhound Fund,” the submission said.

In his response to the document, Minister Donohoe said he had “decided not to change this rate in Budget ‘18” and he would consider it next year.

A statement from his Department said: “The Minister received a number of submissions for possible inclusion in Budget 2018. He took the decision that any potential actions on foot of the Betting Tax Review should be considered as part of Budget 2019.”

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Revenue Commissioners warned that latest price hike for cigarettes could actually lead to a lower tax take for the government

THE government was warned by the Revenue Commissioners that increasing the duty on cigarettes in the latest budget might not yield any extra revenue.

The warning came in a pre-budget submission to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe which suggested the price of a packet of cigarettes was getting so high that smokers would look outside of Ireland when buying.

According to the Revenue Commissioners, a 25-cent price hike could even have caused a decrease in the amount of tax taken in.

The Revenue’s “ready reckoner” suggested that a possible 25-cent increase could at best bring in an extra €31 million but equally could see revenue decline by €18 million.

The submission said: “The Revenue Commissioners have expressed concerns that increases in excise may not lead to increased yields, as consumers are further incentivised to exit the tobacco products market in Ireland.”

Mr Donohoe was told by officials that any predictions on tax taken from smokers were therefore “highly tentative”.

The minister went ahead with a 50-cent hike for the third year in a row cementing Ireland’s position as having the highest rate of duty on cigarettes in the European Union.

Duty on 1,000 cigarettes was €336.15 according to the departmental submission as compared to just over €85 in both Lithuania and Bulgaria.

The memo said that around €170 million was being lost to the Exchequer through a combination of illicit cigarettes and those bought legally elsewhere.

It explained: “Results … indicate that 10% of cigarette consumption in Ireland in 2016 was illicit, while an additional 8% of cigarette consumption was legal product purchased abroad.”

The Department of Finance were lobbied by two tobacco companies, according to the documents.

Imperial Tobacco asked that minimum excise duty on cigarettes not be increased while Japan Tobacco Ireland – who sell brands like Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges – asked the government to commit to “a multi-year plan of modest, predictable excise increases”.

Both the Irish Heart Foundation and Irish Cancer Society urged a 50-cent increase along with a levy on the profits of tobacco manufacturers.

The anti-tobacco NGO ASH Ireland meanwhile suggested a €1 increase per packet and an additional 50-cent “litter levy” for every pack sold.

A spokesman said the Department of Finance was aware the latest price hike could cause a “disproportionate change in consumer behaviour”.

Tax receipts from smokers had finished €56 million down on forecast in 2016 but this year seemed more likely to come in on target, according to the Department.

The spokesman said: “While overall yields have continued to rise over the past three years, issues such as front-loading and projected decreases in smoking prevalence have made accurate forecasting more problematic.

“We are happy that the forecast is solid and if there is a more dramatic shift in the level of consumption … then that will be very welcome from a health perspective, which is the overriding policy objective.”

According to the submission, smoking rates in Ireland are plummeting.

In 2003, 28.3% of the population smoked which by 2016 had fallen to 18.7%. Tobacco Free Ireland – an action plan from the Department of Health – is targeting a reduction to less than 5% by 2025.

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Taoiseach’s Strategic Communications Unit warned of dangers of the “parliamentary bubble” in briefing by UK experts

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar’s €5 million spin unit was warned of the dangers of getting caught in a “parliamentary bubble” in a special briefing from the UK government’s premiere public relations guru.

Two senior members of the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) visited London in September for a high-level briefing with senior personnel in Britain’s Government Communication Service.

A report on the visit, obtained under FOI, reveals key parts of the advice that will shape Mr Varadkar’s controversial PR operation.

Among the findings brought back from the meeting were that there was “audacity in simplicity” and that “citizen needs are more important than government needs”.

The trip was undertaken by John Concannon, the director of the SCU, and Andrea Pappin, another of the leading officials from the unit.

The report on the meeting was filled with suggestions on how the UK had made a success of their ‘GREAT Britain’ communications plan.

However, it made no mention of Brexit and the string of missteps in how the British government has managed that message.

A review of the meeting said there were five key takeaways for Leo Varadkar’s spin unit.

They were that everything is based on hard evidence and data, the importance of citizen needs, simplicity, collaboration and technology, and “authority versus central control”.

The review document said that every meeting, initiative, and campaign in the UK was “grounded in data”.

“Insight is constantly gleaned from own-commissioned market research, website and social media traffic, and constant engagement with key sector[s],” it said.

“It was noticeable how much time is spent listening to key audiences and reviewing the insight before campaigns were devised.”

They said that evaluation of government work was automatic to figure out how many people had been reached, how much had been saved, or what else had been achieved.

The Strategic Communications Unit were also given a clear warning of the dangers of getting caught in a political “bubble”.

“There was a strong awareness of the government bubble and the difference between that and the ‘actual’ needs of citizens,” the document said.

“Every time, the needs of the citizen … was put ahead of Whitehall or the Parliamentary Bubble.”

The head of the Government Communication Service Alex Aiken had apparently told them: “We are all about the public good.”

The SCU were also told that simplicity was audacious, where all communications plans were clean, clear, and understood by all.

“One page was delivered instead of 45 – and where possible it was visual,” said the review document.

They explained how the ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign had been uncompromising in its standards, looking to create jobs.

The brief said: “In fact all of this work had at its heart a simple aim – to be the best. According to UN rankings, they are.”

There was a small army of PR people working on behalf of the UK government, around 3,000 in total, along with twenty department heads of communications, and a twelve-strong management board for strategic communications.

The UK team also suggested a series of simple rules that were designed to “keep standards high and bureaucracy low”.

The report explained: “It was stressed that this was not about ‘central control’, rather the work was deemed professional assurance for the government communications industry.”

Standards, templates, brand guidelines, and user guides were applied to all campaigns with a close watch kept on them.

All campaigns costing over €10,000 had to be run past the government strategic communications and work off a clear template before being allowed to progress.

Incentives were also offered as part of the larger GREAT Britain campaign, they said.

“There is a pool of monies for which [overseas] Ambassadors can apply for local events. Only the Ambassador can apply for the monies, and only after working with their fellow agency teams on the ground.”

A government spokesperson said: “The Irish government wants to learn from best practice in how best to inform citizens about State services, and how best to simplify and streamline its communications.”

They said the UK, Denmark, Estonia, Canada and New Zealand had all “streamlined” their communications strategies at government level.

“Staff from this Department therefore visited London to meet key members of the UK’s civil service communications team,” said the government spokesperson. “These meetings looked at best practice on a range of topics, including digital communications, from the country ranked #1 for eGovernment by the UN.”

The Strategic Communications Unit has been dogged by controversy since it was established by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar early this summer.

Mr Varadkar had originally said the unit would require “no additional spending” and that its costs would be met from “existing allocations”.

The cost of the unit was subsequently revealed to be €5 million per annum and it was described by one Fianna Fáil politician Dara Calleary as a “cheerleading machine”.

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Former politicians had €1,741 in bar and restaurant bills written off with one owing over €300 in a drinks bill

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar was quick to say that politicians who refused to pay their Dáil bar and restaurant bills should have it deducted from their salary.

However, it has now emerged that the biggest ‘debtor’ to benefit from the controversial €5,500 write-off of bar and restaurant debts may have been his own department.

A breakdown of the €5,500 written off by the Oireachtas earlier this year has revealed that the Department of the Taoiseach were recorded as owing €965 across a series of invoices.

However, the Department has disputed the figures, saying their records show that most of the money was repaid long ago.

The departmental bill has in any event been written off by the Oireachtas, along with €4,500 more owed by six politicians, several different government departments, two committees, the government press office, and Fine Gael.

A detailed breakdown of who owes what has been released under FOI showing that one former politician owed a total of €943 to the restaurant, which will not be pursued.

Another ex-TD or Senator owes €301 directly to the Dáil bar and that debt has also been cancelled.

Four other politicians, all either retired or who have lost their seats, owed totals of between €66 and €267 to the bar and restaurant, none of which will be chased up.

The Houses of the Oireachtas has said it will not identify the six politicians who benefitted from the write-off but that none of them were currently serving TDs or Senators.

They said there was evidence that “strongly suggested” their own records may not be accurate.

“Full release could cause unfair negative exposure to the former members in question,” they said.

“[We] could not find a convincing reason to release the names of these individuals and impinge on their right to privacy, when in fact their identities may have been incorrectly associated with non-payment of balances in the first instance.”

They said that in a couple of instances, ex-politicians had even been able to provide evidence that some of the debts had been paid, which cast “doubt over all these historical imbalances”.

The Oireachtas has however, decided to release details of the government departments and committees for whom debt has been written off.

The Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs, and Department of Social Protection had debts – of €417, €404, and €284 respectively – written off.

The Department of Justice had a larger outstanding tab of €692 but again the Oireachtas has said it cannot be certain if their records are accurate.

They said: “Many of the invoices in question were incorrectly directed to certain departments. Some departments had records showing that invoices had been paid … some departments had no records of any of the invoices in question and were not in a position to pay given the delay. The age of the balances casts doubts over their accuracy.”

The Department of the Taoiseach believes the €965.47 that they are listed as owing is wrong, saying they can prove they paid €785 of it.

They said: “The amounts listed … refer to years 2004 to 2010, which relates to catering services provided by the Houses of the Oireachtas for official meetings and events held in the Department and does not relate to bar facilities.”

The department said they had been in ongoing correspondence with the Oireachtas to try and reconcile the amounts owed.

They said: “The Department did not receive any invoices from the Houses of the Oireachtas in respect of the outstanding balance.”

Four other bills are also listed as having been written off: €28 for the foreign affairs committee, €518 for the enterprise and small business committee, €273 to the government press office, and €153 to “Fine Gael/HQ”.

The practice of providing credit to politicians and other public bodies continues despite controversy surrounding it, although it is currently the subject of a review.

The latest figures show that €37,256 was owed at the end of August with €5,375 of that relating to the Dáil bar and the majority of €31,881 owed to the restaurant facilities.

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EU Commission refuses access to correspondence with Irish government over Apple state aid case

Last month, I looked for copies of correspondence between the EU Commission and the Irish government over the Apple state aid case and delays in collecting the €13 billion in tax.

It was, perhaps not surprisingly, refused.

Am open to seeking a review of it if anyone had any thoughts.

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Almost €20 million paid out in pensions, lump sums, and termination pay to former politicians last year

THE taxpayer paid out close to €20 million last year in pensions, lump sums, and other retirement benefits for former politicians.

The huge €19.67 million bill was inflated by large golden handshakes for TDs and Senators who had retired or lost their seats in the last general election.

Thirteen different politicians received more than €200,000 last year, their payments boosted by generous retirement lump sums available from the Oireachtas.

Several of them were long-serving Labour TDs who had served in senior roles during the last coalition government, including Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, and Eamon Gilmore.

The largest individual pensions however, are still being paid to a group of formerly powerful politicians including Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern.

Both received annual pensions of €134,500 last year, made up of their pensions from the Oireachtas and from the Department of Finance for their time as ministers and as Taoiseach.

The next highest pensions were paid to two other former taoisigh, John Bruton who received more than €126,000 and the late Liam Cosgrave who was paid more than €118,000.

Overall, €9.56 million was paid out in “basic pay”, the standard yearly pension paid to former TDs and Senators by the Oireachtas.

The size of the payments varies enormously from upwards of €50,000 for long-serving politicians to just a few thousand euro for those who were in Leinster House for a short period of time.

More than 300 ex-TDs and Senators were in receipt of some form of pension payment last year, with the average working out at €29,718.

Because it was an election year, the overall amount paid out climbed dramatically because of a variety of lump sum and termination payments designed to ease former members out of the Dáil and Seanad.

Pension lump sums of €3.37 million were paid out to 36 different politicians, with the average payment there working out at just over €93,000.

The largest lump sum payments were made to some of the longest-serving politicians in Ireland: Labour’s Emmett Stagg who got €161,508, Fine Gael’s Dan Neville with €153,258, and Fianna Fáil’s John Browne, paid €152,758.

Nineteen different politicians received lump sums exceeding six figures including several former Fine Gael ministers like John Perry and Jimmy Deenihan.

A total of 87 ex-public representatives received a combined €1.14 million in what are known as termination lump sums.

This is paid to those of pension age but also younger politicians who lost or vacated their seats, who would be too young to be paid their pension.

These payments all ranged between €10,800 and €16,000 depending on the politician’s length of service in parliament.

In addition, €1.9 million was paid out in termination pay which is a stepdown payment for TDs and Senators leaving Kildare Street.

It can be paid for up to a year depending on how long the politician has been in Leinster House, and is available irrespective of age.

It is open to former politicians to gift or refund parts of their pension payments and some have done so in the past. However, the Oireachtas does not release details of that type of gifting.

For ministerial pensions, which are paid by the Department of Finance, two people are listed as having surrendered payments last year.

Former minister Eithne Fitzgerald gave back €16,982, virtually all her €17,303.52 ministerial pension while President Michael D Higgins surrendered €36,906.48, again almost all the €37,305.32 due to him.

Ministerial pensions cost €3.64 million last year, paid out to 131 different people according to figures from the Department of Finance.

You can see the full list of those here.

Overall, the highest payment was made to Labour’s Emmett Stagg who received €247,231 after serving 29 consecutive years in the Dáil, as well as a spell as a minister.

That was made up of five separate payments: a six-figure lump sum worth €161,000, a termination lump sum of just under €16,000, termination pay of €35,815, a ministerial pension of €15,683, and a TD pension of €18,296.

Next up was Fianna Fáil’s John Browne who got €245,134, again made up of the same five types of separate payments.

Three senior figures from Labour – Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, and Eamon Gilmore – rounded out the top five, with payments of between €229,000 and €240,000.

The Oireachtas said their pension system was a “contributory scheme”. A spokeswoman explained: “Members elected pre-2013 contribute six percent and they also pay the public service pension levy. Those elected post-2013 contribute thirteen percent and pay the public service pension levy.”

The Department of Public Expenditure said ministerial pensions were calculated based on length of service and the salary the person had before retirement.

They said: “The salaries of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and other officeholders have been substantially reduced since 2008, and will not be restored under the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017.

“Those reduced salaries, like for all public servants, are also currently subject to the pension related deduction, which will be changed to a permanent ongoing [payment] … from 2019.”

They said a raft of other reforms had been introduced for ministerial pensions including a restriction on their payment until age 65, a prohibition on payment if the person still sits in the Seanad or Dáil, and the abolition of severance payments.

Two provisos to the data. 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.

  • If you paid back some of your pension last year or believe the figures here are incorrect, let me know and I will update the spreadsheet.
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Extraordinary success of Wild Atlantic Way sees “bottle necks” develop around Cliffs of Moher and the Dingle Peninsula

THE Wild Atlantic Way has proven so successful that major “bottlenecks” are starting to develop on the route in peak season.

Fáilte Ireland has said long delays and capacity issues are starting to “negatively affect the visitor experience” for tourists coming to Ireland, according to an internal brief.

The documents, prepared for senior management, explain how the tourism agency hopes instead to send visitors further inland to take pressure off the busiest routes.

Described as a major challenge in the brief for management, Fáilte Ireland said they needed to make sure they could “future proof [their] hero asset”.

The “bottlenecks” are on the most popular part of the route from the Cliffs of Moher in Clare down towards Dingle as well as the Ring of Kerry.

The briefing said: “This presents an opportunity to take advantage of existing geographies with a strong tourist offering that are adjacent to the Wild Atlantic Way.”

They said in Clare, visitors should be coaxed into exploring the Burren landscape to take the pressure off Doolin and other towns.

In Kerry, they discussed creating a feature called ‘The Landscapes that inspired Star Wars’ to try and “spread visitors wider” along the route and to take advantage of the cameo of Skellig Michael in the latest instalment of the movie saga.

“These ‘drives’ will not be branded Wild Atlantic Way,” the brief said. “However, they will be presented based on their own story or attraction to potential visitors as a visitor experience in proximity to the [route].”

They said they hoped to have four new drives and two themed itineraries and trails in place by the end of this year to ease the pressures on Counties Clare and Kerry.

Fáilte Ireland said they wanted to encourage tourism with a better regional spread and that would be less seasonal.

A spokesman said: “Otherwise, if numbers simply continue to grow into the usual hotspots during high season, we will have greater congestion, less value for money and a diminished visitor experience.

“In terms of the Wild Atlantic Way, our domestic marketing over the last year has created greater emphasis on the northern stretch of the route.”

The spokesman said for instance that Slieve League in Donegal, with its 600-metre tall cliffs, was as spectacular as the Cliffs of Moher but far less visited.

He also said that the Ireland’s Ancient East campaign was in part inspired by spreading growth around the country and “avoiding bottlenecks”.

Separately, internal records also reveal how Fáilte Ireland came under intense pressure to extend the Wild Atlantic Way project but were wary any such decision could “open the floodgates” for other areas looking to get included.

Campaigners had been lobbying to have the route signage brought to Courtmacsherry in Cork and the Seven Heads Peninsula.

Internal documents explain that including the area around the peninsula had originally been considered problematic because the roads were too narrow for two-way traffic in places.

Local businesses complained that they had been particularly badly hit as tourists would rigidly follow the Wild Atlantic Way signposts and ignore the town.

Among those supporting their cause were Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who described the area as “extremely picturesque and enchanting” in a letter to Fáilte Ireland.

An internal email also explained how the issue had become divisive in the area between those “on the physical route … and those who perceive they are being disadvantaged”.

Fáilte Ireland said: “[We have] agreed to extend the current route of the Wild Atlantic Way to Courtmacsherry and the addition of a discovery point in [the village].

“We have also agreed to investigate the appropriate mechanism to include the Seven Heads Coastal Route as a component of the Wild Atlantic Way.”

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Five-star hotels, business class flights, and the €4,000 airfare so a minister wouldn’t miss a family event

ENTERPRISE Ireland spent over €4,000 flying a government minister from the USA to a family event in Spain because they didn’t want him to miss a trade mission.

The state body brought junior minister Pat Breen to Minneapolis and Saint Paul late last year for their inaugural “Life Sciences” trade mission there .

However, they later discovered that Mr Breen was double-booked for a family event in the south of Spain, which he did not want to miss.

To make sure he could do both, Enterprise Ireland ended up paying €4,398 for a flight from Minneapolis to Malaga last September.

The cost was driven up dramatically by an overnight business class flight from the US to Paris Charles de Gaulle where Mr Breen caught his connecting flight to Spain.

By comparison, the outgoing trip from Dublin to Minneapolis via Chicago had only cost €887, bringing the total flight cost to €5,285.

The air ticket was part of more than €30,000 spent on the three-day trade mission last September, records from Enterprise Ireland reveal.

Close to €16,000 was spent on a reception with “other costs” of €4,437 run up during the event.

It also included a €2,700 hotel bill from the four-star Radisson Blu in Minneapolis, which covered the cost of Minister Breen and two staff.

Three nights for each of the three at the hotel in the “Twin Cities landmark” was charged at the rate of just over €300 each night.

That was not the most expensive hotel that Enterprise Ireland booked for Mr Breen last year however.

That accolade was reserved for the Oberoi Hotel in the Indian city of Bengaluru (formerly known as Bangalore) where the Clare TD spent his final night of a trade mission last November.

A second-floor room at the five-star hotel ended up costing just over 30,000 rupees, the equivalent of almost €400 based on this week’s exchange rates.

The hotel is one of the finest in the city with each room having its own private balcony overlooking the property’s “vast, exquisite gardens”.

It was one of a string of five-star hotels that Mr Breen stayed in during his stay in India.

He also spent two nights at the Oberoi in Mumbai, another of the country’s finest hotels with “an unrivalled position on the exclusive Marine Drive, with unparalleled views of the ocean and the Queen’s Necklace [a local landmark]”.

The accommodation there was slightly cheaper, this time at just 25,000 rupees per night with the total cost around €650.

Mr Breen stayed two nights in the capital New Delhi as well, this time at the ITC Maurya not far from the Irish Ambassador’s €29,000-a-month residence in the city.

The cost of that two-night stay was 51,000 rupees, again just over €650 at current exchange rates.

Overall, the bill for Mr Breen’s accommodation came to €1,614, according to a table of costs provided by Enterprise Ireland.

His flights for the trip – business class via Abu Dhabi and including internal transfers – set the taxpayer back €3,345.

Altogether, the trade mission, which involved India and the Gulf States, cost almost €85,000 of which €19,000 was clawed back through “client participation” fees.

A reception cost €10,303, with transport costs of over €3,000. Venue hire was just under €14,000 while “support” cost €13,233 and €19,237 was spent on promotion and printing.

As part of that trade mission, Minister Charlie Flanagan also travelled to Dubai and the Saudi capital Riyadh; his hotel costs of €606 were paid for by Enterprise Ireland.

Asked about the expense of the Spanish flight for Minister Pat Breen, his department said: “[He] had previously booked personal flights to attend a family event in the Spain in the week of the US trade mission.

“However, as the trade mission was deemed to be of significant importance … and would benefit from the support of a ministerial presence, Enterprise Ireland requested that the minister remain in the US to complete the final engagements of the visit, thus losing his flight bookings to Spain.

“He agreed to do so on the understanding that he could fly directly from the US to Spain to arrive in time for the family occasion. The minister paid for the final leg from Spain to Dublin personally.”

In a statement, Enterprise Ireland said the trade missions were to “key markets” and part of their plans to grow client exports by €5 billion per annum.

They said: “Both trade missions were important for Irish companies to grow exports. The USA is the top global market for the Irish Life Sciences sector which employs over 30,000 people and India is a key market for Irish exports where exports in 2016 were €68 million.”

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Under public pressure, government shut expenses loophole that let ministers claim extra €2,000 in mileage in an election year

AN EXPENSES loophole that allowed cabinet ministers to claim an extra €2,000 a year in tax-free mileage has been closed by the government.

The ‘fresh start’ allowed some ministers, who were appointed to a new job during an election year, to claim a higher rate of mileage twice in a single year.

It meant they could twice claim travel expenses at the higher rate, which applies to the first 4,000 miles they travel in a single year.

However, after controversy over how Health Minister Simon Harris was able to claim the higher rate at both the OPW and the Department of Health last year, the loophole has now been shut.

Documents obtained under FOI show how a memo was prepared for Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe to address the anomaly.

It said: “The ‘fresh start’ for Ministers/Ministers of State in respect of aggregate mileage in the year of a general election has been the subject of recent attention in the press.

“Reports focused on the perceived tax benefits available to Ministers/Ministers of State as the only group that retains the benefit of a fresh start.”

The memo explained that the idea had originally applied to TDs and Senators when they were paid mileage to and from their constituency to Leinster House.

It was then extended to ministers to “allow parity” with the other politicians.

However, after a new system of travel and accommodation allowances was introduced for TDs and Senators – the mileage system was abolished, leaving ministers as the only ones who could benefit from the old system.

The memo continued: “Public servants who are transferred or promoted from one travelling post to another carry their aggregate mileage and do not receive a fresh start.

“It is recommended that the ‘fresh start’ provisions be dropped from the next election.”

The system was described as a “relic of the former system” and the memo was signed off by Minister Paschal Donohoe who wrote: “I agree to this.”

The memo also said that not every minister who was entitled to the fresh start had even claimed it because not all knew about it.

“Informal contacts with a number of Departments indicate that Ministers/Ministers of State do not routinely claim a fresh start,” said the memo.

“It appears that most of those appointed or reappointed as Ministers/Ministers of State continue with the aggregated mileage carried forward from previous appointments.”

In a letter sent to all government departments, personnel officers were told the ‘fresh start’ had “largely fallen into disuse”.

The instructions said: “It has been decided that Ministers and Ministers of State should be treated on the same annual basis as public servants generally in respect of mileage. In future … [they] will no longer be able to claim a fresh start to their aggregate mileage in a year where a General Election occurs.”

In a statement, the Department said that the arrangements were a “leftover element” of the old mileage system that had once applied to all politicians.

They said: “[The new system] broke the link with members’ [TDs and Senators] mileage and consequently with the need for a fresh start.

“In the interest of consistency, it was decided that Ministers/Ministers of State would in future operate on the same annual basis as all other staff claiming mileage.”

You can read the background to this story at this blog post here.

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