THE Irish government is spending an astronomical â‚¬29,000-a-month to rent an ambassadorâ€™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 â€œdiplomatic enclaveâ€ 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 Irelandâ€™s diplomatic spending after revelations that a luxury apartment for the Irish ambassador in Tokyo was being rented for â‚¬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 â€œvery highâ€ in New Delhi.
The monthly cost of the property in local currency is 2.15Â 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 â‚¬29,409.
Details of payments made in 2015, and which were obtained under FOI, reveal that the annual total last year came to â‚¬352,000.
The Department said that as well as the Ambassador, there were embassy employees living on the property. â€œ[It] consists of a house for the Head of Mission and his family and separate living quarters for Embassy staff and dependents,â€ they said.
The Department said rental costs were sky-high in New Delhi due to the â€œextremely high demand for property in one of the worldâ€™s fastest growing economies, with growth exceeding 7.5% last yearâ€.
They said there was intense competition for suitable properties from both embassies and private sector organisations, national and international.
The property is located in New Delhiâ€™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 â€“ which was established in 1950 â€“ 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 â€œactively engagedâ€ with the landlord to seek savings before the rental agreement was renewed.
â€œIn line with departmental guidelines, the Head of Mission is exploring other suitable options available on the market,â€ they said.
The Department said that India was a â€œpriority marketâ€ 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: â€œSo far this year, the Head of Mission has hosted a large range of events promoting Irelandâ€™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.â€
Over â‚¬4 million was spent last year on homes for Irelandâ€™s ambassadors and consul generals in countries where a property is not owned by the state.
The property in New Delhi, and the â‚¬46,000-a-month apartment in Tokyo, are by some distance the two most expensive.Â Next most costly are the â‚¬20,870 paid for a residence in New York and â‚¬20,000 for a luxury home with swimming pool in Singapore.
A house in Geneva is rented at a cost of â‚¬15,925 per month while another â‚¬10,000 is paid out for properties in Helsinki and in Warsaw.Â The rental bill in at least half five other cities â€“ two properties each in Brussels and Vienna, and one in Bucharest, Vienna, Rome, Paris â€“ is between â‚¬5,000 and â‚¬9,000.
An edited version of this story appeared originally in the Irish Mail on Sunday.