Five-star trip for four politicians to Bangladesh with luxury hotels and business class flights costs over €20,000

A TRIP for four politicians to Bangladesh, which included business class flights and accommodation at a five-star hotel, ended up costing the taxpayer more than €20,000.

The delegation travelled to the Bangladeshi capital in April, staying five nights at the plush Westin Dhaka Hotel in the city.

Flights each cost between €3,250 and €3,500 because business class was booked due to the distance they had to travel.

The accommodation bill at the 29-storey Westin – which features an outdoor heated pool, spa, and no less than five restaurants – came to just over €5,000, according to Oireachtas records.

The delegation was led by Cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan, who was joined by independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone, and Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Aylward.

Ms Noone explained: “We were gone for five days, I think. There is a rule that once flights are over a certain length of time, they book [business class]. Certainly, none of us were requesting that.

“The trip was heavy going in terms of the workload. We couldn’t be on our own, so we were in the hotel or the conference centre most of the time. It was a very worthwhile trip but it was exhausting to be honest.”

The Dhaka bill was part of more than €141,000 spent so far this year sending TDs and Senators to the four corners of the globe on official business.

Politicians trekked as far as New York, Chicago, Egypt, and Mongolia as part of their work, according to the records.

One of the largest bills was the €6,752 hotel bill for eight politicians who travelled to Egypt as part of a “bi-lateral visit” during which they raised the continued imprisonment of Ibrahim Halawa.

Flights for each of eight cost €820 with a three-night hotel stay at the five-star Cairo Marriott Hotel coming in at €280 per night.

For one of the TDs who travelled – the Green Party’s Eamon Ryan – the accommodation bill came out a little cheaper at just €633 as opposed to the €844 incurred by each of his colleagues.

The Oireachtas said the Marriott hotel had been chosen on the recommendation of the Irish Embassy in Cairo because of “the security situation … and the business to be carried out”.

Ceann Comhairle Séan Ó Fearghaíl has been on multiple trips abroad this year as well as leading the group that visited Cairo in January.

In February, he travelled to Edinburgh for a parliamentary commission meeting and in July, he went to the Isle of Man for the annual “Tynwald ceremony”.

He also travelled to the Slovak capital Bratislava in April, with the bill for the three trips combined coming to a very frugal €780 … although the accommodation in Scotland and the Isle of Man was paid for by the hosts.

The furthest flung location that any of the travelling politicians reached was Mongolia.

In June, Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers headed to Ulaanbaatar for an “election observation mission” with flights costing €1,531 and accommodation costing €678.

TDs and Senators also continue to be paid special bonus subsistence rates when they travel abroad on certain official business.

Under the system, they get “top-ups” of between 60 and 80 per cent over and above normal civil service rates for trips involving organisations like the Council of Europe or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

On one such four-night trip to Strasbourg this year for example, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen made an expense claim of €1,034 even though his flight and hotel costs were paid for by the Oireachtas.

Mr Mullen did not return calls seeking comment on whether he felt the higher rates were justified for TDs and Senators.

He had travelled to Strasbourg on January 22 and returned to Ireland on January 26 with his hotel stay paid by the Oireachtas and costing €629.

Daily rates of subsistence for places like Strasbourg or Paris can be as high as €260 a day and their continued payment has been questioned by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

In a statement, the Oireachtas said the €20,000 trip to Dhaka was for the general assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, of which Ireland is a member.

They said: “The delegation stayed at the Westin Dhaka Hotel, one of the official hotels recommended by the event organisers. Exceptionally, the delegation flew business class because of the duration of the flight involved.”

The Oireachtas said they did not have responsibility for setting the special subsistence rates that apply to TDs and Senators for travel abroad.

They said: “[We have] no role in the setting of these rates and no changes can be made to the subsistence rates without an authorisation from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.”

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