Late last year, I wrote about a trip for five politicians to Vietnam that includedÂ several business class flights and a stay at a five-star hotel. Altogether, it resulted in a bill to the taxpayer of more than €23,000.
Here’s theÂ table of costs for that trip along with the original expense and itinerary documents released by the Houses of the Oireachtas following myÂ FOI request.
Below isÂ the story that ran in the Irish Daily Mail at the time.
The junket – for the twice-yearly assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union – ended up with a much larger tab than Leinster House had anticipated after a flight was block-booked by the Vietnamese government.
Five politicians travelled on the trip which was led by Seanad chairman Paddy Burke. Accompanying him were Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin, Labour TD John Lyons, Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen and Fine Gael’s Noel Harrington.
Flights for the five politicians, and a civil servant, ended up costing almost €13,500, according to the documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The most expensive flights, which cost €2,984, were reserved for Ms Mulherin who was the only one to get business class both outbound and inbound.
Ms Mulherin’s flight home was changed a week before she travelled to leave a day earlier than planned and cost an extra €600.
In a statement, the Oireachtas said that she had to return early in order to attend ‘parliamentary business’ in Dublin and that she had travelled business class in accordance with Oireachtas travel policy. Ms Mulherin said that she had nothing to add to the statement from Leinster House.
The Oireachtas said that although the entire delegation had flown out to Hanoi in business class, the rest of the travelling group flew economy class on the way home because ‘business class tickets could not be sourced and were sold out’.
The entire group were put up at the Lotte Hanoi hotel, with the collective bill for their stay there coming to more than €7,500.
Other costs on the trip included €767.50 paid to the Tropical Medicine Bureau for vaccinations (Ms Mulherin excluded) in advance of travel and a tiny €18.40 bill for gifts.
Labour TD John Lyons also submitted a claim for €856.69 in subsistence expenses, which did not have to cover hotels, flights, and many of his meals, which were paid for by the hosts.
Mr Lyons also claimed €25-aday in phone costs, which does not have to be vouched in any way apart from a declaration of how many days are being claimed for.
Mr Lyons said: ‘It is my understanding that all expenditure relating to the visit is in accordance with travel policies set down by the Oireachtas and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.’
A statement from the Oireachtas said that costs had escalated after bookings were changed at late notice when the Vietnamese government ‘offloaded’ some of the Irish delegation from flights that were already booked ‘forcing us to make alternative arrangements for them to travel a day early’.
In a separate statement, Barry Cowen said: ‘It was a very worthwhile visit and included many informative meetings that allowed for exchanges on business, the economy, tourism and diplomatic relations.’
Noel Harrington did not respond to requests for comment. Mr Burke said he was happy with the statement by the Oireachtas.