€15.8M in rent, €250,000 for moving furniture and €222,000 for business class flights – a year of spending at the Department of Foreign Affairs

A MONTHLY rent bill of €5,400 for a residence for Ireland’s Ambassador to the Vatican, over €250,000 for moving furniture, and in excess of €222,000 on business class flights … just some of the money spent by the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs last year.

A data dump of €64 million in Departmental spending obtained under FOI has given a detailed look at how and where our diplomats spent taxpayer’s money in 2015.

The figures include enormous figures for rent with €5,400-a-month being spent on a residence for the Ambassador to the Holy See.

In articles in the Irish Catholic newspaper last year, it was described as being located on the Piazza Rondanini and “situated just across the Tiber river from the Vatican in the shadows of the iconic Pantheon”.

Vast rental costs have also been incurred at the embassies in Geneva, Tokyo, Singapore, New York and in Brussels, according to the records.

The monthly rental bill in Tokyo comes to just over €40,000-per-month according to the database with another €27,000-a-month spent at the Consulate General in New York.

In Singapore, the monthly rent bill is just over €20,000 while in Geneva, it averaged €16,260 in each month of 2015.

By far the biggest cost was rent, which between costs for chancery buildings and residences came to more than €15.8 million during the course of last year.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said they seek to “minimise the cost of rental properties to ensure value for money”.

They did say however that the recovering world economy is putting increasing pressure on rent and that the weakness of the euro against the US dollar was impacting in many non-EU countries.

Over €2 million was also spent on airfares, with around €220,000 – or roughly 12% – of that total going on business class flights.

Many of the most expensive flights, including tickets costing €5,908 and €4,784, were charged to the office of the Minister or Ministers of State at the Department.

The Department said business travel was only used in very limited circumstances, only for flights of more than seven hours in duration.

Close to €180,000 was spent on hotels, with the single biggest bill of €5,752 charged to the Protocol Division by the five-star Glenlo Abbey Hotel in Galway.

One of the biggest areas of expenditure was on what was described as “major maintenance” primarily to houses and embassies rented by the Department.

One contract from last September came in at just over €210,000 though no details have been provided on where or what the money was spent on.

Cars cost more than €750,000 with €69,000 spent on vehicles in Ethiopia, €64,000 in Mozambique and €37,000 in Uganda – all countries where Irish Aid are active.

Details on the nature of the vehicles bought are scant apart from one entry listed as €31,115 paid to BMW and coming out of the human resources budget.

The Department said they had replaced 22 vehicles across the world, including five to support the Irish Aid programme. They said vehicles were only replaced when it was “absolutely necessary”.

With so many civil servants working all over the world – the costs of moving both furniture and other items was also significant.

More than €1.76 million was spent on storing and moving equipment, with another €259,000 spent moving furniture.

The Department explained that in 2015 more than 250 staff had moved country and that costs were incurred transporting their “personal and household effects”.

New furniture also proved costly with just under €300,000 spent on “furniture and fittings” in 2015, the largest sum of €58,000 paid to an Irish carpentry company that specialises in kitting out offices.

A large bill of just over €475,000 was also run up on official state entertainment, which included significant costs for chauffeurs with one company paid in excess of €50,000 for driving services.

The Dublin Airport Authority was paid just over €16,400 for VIP lounges and other services. A florist company Floral Events got just over €2,000 while a piano company were paid €695.

Across the network of embassies and consulates, the bill for cable and satellite TV came to just over €72,000 with the largest bills run up at Ireland’s UN office and consulates in New York.

Cleaning bills for the diplomatic buildings exceeded €1 million with the cost of keeping Ireland’s EU Permanent Representation spick and span coming to €63,000 alone.

Rail and bus fares cost just over €9,000 while €85,000 was spent on taxis, the vast majority of it in Dublin and the Department’s other Irish offices.

The Department also had to pay out a total of €186,654 in what were cryptically referred to as “settlement costs” in the database.

In a statement, they explained that these were the final payments made to former local staff at the Irish Embassy in Lesotho following its closure in 2014.

More than €550,000 was spent on diplomatic mail across the globe, while €2.2 million was spent on regular postage, much of it by the Passport Office sending out passports.

A further €132,000 was spent on “items of artistic value”, €142,000 on translation fees, €579,000 on mobile phone costs, and €280,000 on language courses.

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