Sunday 30 April 2017

They get jollies, we get sewage

Libraries and pools are set to close, but Dublin City Council spends more than €625,000 on junkets THEY'RE WORTH IT: The hard-working Dublin City Councillors have been sent on arduous trips to (from left) Kuala Lumpur; to New York for a Francis Bacon exhibition; to St Petersburg in Russia; to old Amsterdam; and to the Gaudi buildings of Barcelona

CASH-STRAPPED Dublin City Council has spent more than €625,000 in just two years on travel and expenses for its top staff and councillors. The council has paid for trips to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, St Petersburg in Russia and San Jose in California, as well as a jolly off to Istanbul for the Uefa Cup Final weekend.

This heavy spending on sending staff and councillors off to exotic locations is even more extraordinary as Dublin City Council faces a financial crisis and has sought to slash spending.

There are no funds to keep some municipal swimming pools open and library services across the city have suffered major cutbacks. Other council services have suffered massively as €300m in capital spending has been shelved and austerity measures have been introduced.

The fire brigade is reeling from major cutbacks and residents of Dolphin House flats are flooded in sewage, but Dublin City Council continues to spend its shrinking funds on foreign trips.

In 2008 alone, despite the collapse of public spending, top city council officials including Dublin city manager John Tierney, city planner Dick Gleeson, assistant city manager Michael Stubbs and Hugh Lane Gallery director Barbara Dawson took almost 540 flights abroad -- more than one a day.

Flights alone cost €127,149 that year, according to figures released to the Sunday Independent under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2009, one of the hardest years ever faced by Irish taxpayers, the council splashed out €178,000 for foreign flights, hotels and other expenses for its top staff and some councillors, according to the figures we've been able to obtain. In the first 42 days of 2010, it blew more than €13,385 sending staff to Barcelona, Zurich, Madrid, Munich, Nantes and other European cities.

Dublin City Council boss, city manager John Tierney, travelled to San Jose in California on a week-long trip in March 2009 for a "twinning event". Travel costs for the seven-strong delegation were about €7,500 between flights, accommodation and other expenses.

Tierney was also in San Jose as part of an eight-day jolly in March 2008 for "Portland City Council & San Jose twinning", according to the files given to the Sunday Independent.

The trip, which included executive manager Vincent Norton, former mayor Mary Freehill and councillor Charlie Ardagh, cost about €6,300 in flights, accommodation and subsistence.

The Dublin City Council Annual Report for 2008 shows that some €22,200 in costs were clocked up in relation to the San Jose twinning.

San Jose attracted more travellers in 2007, with twinning costs hitting €17,303 that year as a delegation of five visited the Californian city. In 2006, another visit by council staff and members added to the €24,371 bill. Junkets to the West Coast city also took place in 2005 and 2004.

Tierney also travelled to Singapore for six days in June 2008, attending the World City Summit with assistant city manager Michael Stubbs, with the council spending more than €3,300 on flights, hotels and subsistence.

Tierney travelled to New York at the end of September 2009 for a Francis Bacon exhibition, at a cost of €1,220. He also travelled to Barcelona in November 2009. Tierney also visited Budapest for a three-day trip in 2008, with other visits to London and a study trip to Amsterdam.

Tierney's number two, Philip Maguire, took a nine-day jaunt off to Beijing in November 2008 as part of a Department of Foreign Affairs trip to promote Ireland. He also went to Istanbul for a "sail training international conference".

Assistant city manager Michael Stubbs has travelled to Singapore, Stockholm and Amsterdam on council business, with city planner Dick Gleeson travelling to the US, Milan, Copenhagen, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Newcastle between 2008 and the end of 2009.

Hugh Lane Gallery director Barbara Dawson travelled abroad 16 times between 2008 and 2009, visiting New York three times as well as jetting off to Milan, Basle and London. Her trips cost more than €17,500 over the period, including one eight-day visit to New York to meet the executor of Francis Bacon's estate. This visit cost €3,067, according to the documents released to the Sunday Independent.

The council spent €587 on a staff member to travel to New York as "a courier for Francis Bacon art to Met Museum".

Some of the beanos and conferences visited could hardly be described as being of critical importance. More than €2,009 was spent to send a city official to Reykjavik for four days in August 2009 to attend the "Viking Festival".

Another official was dispatched to Milan to attend a "sport and nutrition conference". Over €945 was spent to send another staff member to Hamburg for a site visit related to an "upcoming sporting event". A staff "exchange trip" to St Johns in Newfoundland cost over €1,050, too.

The city council sent staff to Poland for a "friendship agreement between Dublin and Krakow". Another member of staff clocked up a bill of €1,835 heading to Cape Town in South Africa for a "veterinary conference" in August 2008.

More than €7,000 was spent sending nine staff members to the Greenkeys Conference on "improving urban green spaces" in Sofia, Bulgaria.

In November 2008, days before the harshest Budget in the history of the State, not one but 11 representatives of the council headed to Boston for five days on a "site visit to view social schemes". This trip cost more than €17,100 between flights, accommodation and other expenses.

Two Fine Gael councillors were dispatched to Athens for four days in March 2008 to attend the Sixth Forum of the World Alliance of Cities against Poverty. The bill came to more than €2,600.

"All foreign travel is undertaken in accordance with Dublin City Council's travel policy. This policy specifically precludes travel by business class or by spouses," according to a council spokesman.

"All travel undertaken by elected members and staff is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and the cheapest and best-value travel and accommodation options are sought at all times.

"All foreign travel is approved by the city manager."

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