A GOVERNMENT agency has defended paying close to €2,000 for a former minister to spend four nights in a hotel in the United States.
Enterprise Ireland forked out a total of €1,993 for a room at the luxury Seaport Hotel in Boston for then Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan.
The room was booked for five nights, even though the accommodation was only required for four, so that Labour TD O’Sullivan would have a place to work for the day.
The room bill was part of more than €32,000 spent by Enterprise Ireland during the education trade mission in May of 2015, which included a hotel bill of more than €18,000.
That covered accommodation for six Enterprise Ireland staff, Minister O’Sullivan, and three of her staff from the Department of Education.
Just over €1,600 was spent on official meals and entertainment with a briefing dinner for the Minister, Boston’s Consul General, and six staff costing almost US$800.
Ms O’Sullivan said that the trip to Boston — and another she undertook last year to China — were to fulfil speaking engagements at major international education conferences.
“I was accompanied by representatives of most of Ireland’s universities and IT’s at each of them, and visited higher education institutions including MIT, Boston College, Peking University to strengthen and expand ties between Irish and US/Chinese 3rd level institutions,” she said.
Invoice with public service staff names blanked out (by me)Â below
The Boston trip was part of more than €1.2 million spent by Enterprise Ireland last year on trade missions involving ministers, of which more than €427,000 was earned straight back through client income and cost recharges.
Much of the costs related to the rental of exhibition space, design, sponsorship, and the hosting of receptions on four different continents.
However, significant costs were also run up on flying a number of ministers to and from events and putting them up in hotels.
On one of the missions to China, then enterprise minister Richard Bruton was put up in the luxury five-star Island Shangri-La hotel in Hong Kong for a single night at a cost of €500.
Enterprise Ireland said there had been particular circumstances surrounding the high bill including a late check-out that had added to the cost.
They also said a €250 surcharge on the room (bringing total cost to €750) had allowed access to a business floor and meeting rooms, which meant they did not have to hire a “meeting room separately”.
On a separate trip to Dubai, they paid €322 for a room for Mr Bruton to stay a single night at another five-star hotel, the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel.
Enterprise Ireland said the cost had risen because of a late change in scheduling for the ministerial party that had meant staying in Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi.
“As the hotel was already full,” they said, “Enterprise Ireland were unable to secure the corporate rate and had to pay the hotel’s normal rate.”
The minister’s spokesman said all elements of these trips were organised by Enterprise Ireland, and that they booked accommodation and transport.
He said: “Minister Bruton has always emphasised that the cost of trade missions, which have a vital role in creating jobs and growing Irish exports, are kept to a minimum.”
Enterprise Ireland held four separate receptions in Dubai, Riyadh, Doha, and Abu Dhabi on that four-day trade mission at a combined cost of almost €30,000.
On two separate trips for former junior minister Sean Sherlock, the state agency paid out in excess of €300 for a single night at hotels in two different cities.
Sherlock, a Labour TD, was put up at Le Pierre Hotel in Paris for a trade mission at the international air show in the city … the room for the night cost €391.
On a separate trip to London for the World Water Tech summit, Mr Sherlock stayed at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel with the room charged at €323 for one night.
Enterprise Ireland said the hotel was five-star, which would “not be the normal class of accommodation” except that an event the minister was attending was being held there.
Mr Sherlock said all of the travel had been organised by Enterprise Ireland. He said: “I’ve always left arrangements for accommodation as a minister to the Department and the [state bodies] … the only request I ever made was that accommodation was booked with a gym or exercise room where possible for exercise.”
Enterprise Ireland said that the presence of government ministers on trade missions added extra “leverage” to build relationships with commercial enterprises.
They said: “[Our] policy is to book the most cost-effective and appropriate flights and hotel accommodation for Ministers when they lead Enterprise Ireland trade missions overseas.”