THE annual pilgrimage of government ministers to cities across the globe for St Patrick’s Day has become a national institution.
It’s not just our Cabinet however who get to represent Ireland abroad each year, with over €200,000 spent sending more than 60 councillors and local authority staff away this year for March 17.
Of the 31 local authorities in Ireland, at least 20 sent a delegation away for St Patrick’s Day with New York by far the most popular destination.
All told, more than €50,000 was spent on transatlantic flights with another €81,000 paid out for hotel rooms, some costing upwards of €300 per night, FOI requests to each of the local authorities have revealed.
Meath County Council sent by far the biggest delegation abroad with ten people dispatched, six to New York and four to London at a combined cost of just over €20,000.
Records released list Cathaoirleach Maria Murphy, Cllr David Gilroy, Cllr Claire O’Driscoll, Cllr Sharon Tolan, county chief executive Jackie Maguire, and an unnamed official as having travelled to New York.
The six-strong delegation stayed four nights in one of New York’s Fitzpatrick Hotels with the bills ranging from between €1,296 to €1,665 per person.
The local authority said: “Councillors work throughout the year representing the people of Meath and St Patrick’s Day is an ideal opportunity for them to support Meath people living abroad and to recognise the work of the Meath Associations [abroad].”
The largest bill was run up by Limerick’s council however, where costs of just over €28,000 were incurred sending six people to the United States.
The delegation was made up of four councillors and two officials, while hotel costs of €12,000 were paid out according to FOI records.
The group was led by Fianna Fáil councillor and Mayor Kieran O’Hanlon who visited New York, Boston, and Washington during his eight-day trip.
He stayed his first night in the US$463-a-night boutique Fifty NYC hotel before moving to the Benjamin Hotel where the bill for five nights was US$1,590.
The local authority also paid out €3,700 for a series of receptions and meetings while in New York.
That included a €956 bill from New York’s Empire Steakhouse, €443 at Bloom’s Tavern, and two cheques worth €1,415 and €505 from Rosie O’Grady’s Pub.
Cork County Council were the next highest spenders with just over €22,000 shelled out with a party of four having travelled to the US.
The delegation was made up of two senior officials who travelled with Mayor Séamus McGrath and Councillor John Paul O’Shea.
Flights for the four-strong travelling party cost €6,484 while almost €8,400 was spent on hotels during their trip to Chicago, Detroit, New York, with an unscheduled weather enforced overnight in Milwaukee.
Most of the accommodation was booked at the Crowne Plaza at Times Square where the cost per night per room was just over €350.
The council also paid out €2,912 for sterling silver gifts to be given in America including torcs, cufflinks, and bookmarks, while €3,611 was spent on several official receptions and dinners.
The council said: “The itinerary was very intensive with a series of rolling engagements from arrival in the US to departure. Its focus was on developing relationships across a wide range of common interest areas, including economic development, tourism, trade and cultural endeavours.
“The Council is satisfied that the costs involved reflect value for money, are of direct benefit to Cork County … and that economic prudence and a value for money ethos was applied in relation to the costs.”
Bills of more than €10,000 were also run up by local authorities in Sligo, Donegal, and Louth.
In Sligo, the Cathaoirleach Hubert Keaney travelled with two senior council officials with the three return flights together costing €3,157 and hotel accommodation coming to a total of €7,031.
Three people also travelled from Donegal County Council with Councillors Terence Slowey and Barry O’Neill visiting Philadelphia, New York, and Boston over the course of ten days.
Their flights cost just €579 each while a five-night stay for each in the Manhattan at Times Square cost €1,632, according to the records released.
They also stayed two nights in each of Boston’s Hotel Buckminster and Philadelphia’s Holiday Inn Express Midtown.
Other counties that sent delegations included two from Kerry at a cost of €9,857, four from Mayo for €9,105, and a-four strong group from Carlow with a final bill of €9,099.
Not all local authorities sent people abroad for St Paddy’s Day with nobody travelling from any of the four Dublin councils.
A number of local authorities have still failed to provide details of whether anybody travelled, almost two months after the requests were first submitted.
Here’s a table of overall expenditure by each local authority.
Two have so far failed to respond more than two months later … am still chasing them.
Costs in a couple of instances may be higher and I am trying to clarify certain issues that cropped up in the FOI responses.