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Saturday 10 December 2016

Dockland chiefs ran up €600,000 travel bill

Former executives enjoyed caviar, champagne and lavish banquets

Published 08/03/2010 | 05:00

Board members and executives from the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) splashed hundreds of thousands of euro on luxury travel, expensive meals and fine wines, an Irish Independent investigation reveals.

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Dozens of unpublished internal DDDA documents have uncovered a culture of excess and extravagance at the authority, which has accumulated crippling losses of €213m.

They show that board members -- including disgraced banker Sean FitzPatrick -- spent huge sums on visits to dockland developments in the US, Russia, Finland, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Mr FitzPatrick and other former board members stayed in hotels charging up to €580 a night while on DDDA business.

On one trip, champagne and caviar were ordered during a lavish banquet.

Mini-bar and bar bills were frequently claimed from the DDDA on other trips, while large quantities of wine were purchased for some board meetings. On another occasion, the DDDA was billed for more than €1,000 worth of tickets to a West End show in London.

The Irish Independent has also learnt that receipts linked to a number of foreign fact-finding missions have "gone missing" despite a requirement for the authority to keep them on file.

The DDDA's new board, chaired by Professor Niamh Brennan, has since banned expensive foreign trips, which cost the authority almost €600,000 in the space of just five years.

The revelations will heap further pressure on Environment Minister John Gormley to publish potentially explosive corporate governance reports on finance and planning at the authority.

The publication of the reports has been delayed while they are being examined by Attorney General Paul Gallagher.

As well as Mr FitzPatrick, another former Anglo Irish Bank board member, Lar Bradshaw, also went on expensive DDDA trips between 2003 and 2007. Both men simultaneously sat on the boards of the bank and the authority when Anglo Irish agreed to part-finance the disastrous €412m Irish Glass Bottle site deal.

They were also involved in the DDDA board meeting that approved its involvement in the doomed project after fellow board members decided there was no conflict of interest.

The value of the undeveloped site, which is 26pc owned by the DDDA, has slumped to €50m.

Mr FitzPatrick and Mr Bradshaw were among 15 people that the DDDA flew business class, at a cost of more than €3,800 per person, to Baltimore and New York in the US to view harbour developments in October 2003. The group was put up in a Madison Avenue hotel. Accommodation and restaurant bills for the three-day trip came close to €27,000.

Flights

They were also among a group of 13 brought to Helsinki, Finland, and St Petersburg, Russia, the following year. Mr FitzPatrick's flights cost €2,635, while Mr Bradshaw's cost €2,039. The group stayed at the €400-a-night Hotel Kamp in Helsinki and the €450-a-night Corinthia Nevskij Palace Hotel in St Petersburg.

Restaurant bills totalling more than €6,000 were run up in the space of three days.

A €2,578 bill from the Noble Nest restaurant in St Petersburg featured Bollinger champagne and caviar.

Mr FitzPatrick and Mr Bradshaw stayed in €580-a-night rooms at the Amstel Intercontinental Hotel during a visit to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in October 2005.

Restaurant bills from the trip included €63 bottles of Chablis.

They also went on a visit to Bilbao and San Sebastian in Spain in October 2006, where hotel rooms cost €450 a night.

Mr FitzPatrick was also on a trip to Glasgow, Scotland, in May 2005 where €60 bottles of wine were ordered at the Etain restaurant.

Flights for another board member, Joan O'Connor, to Vancouver, Canada, in September 2006 cost €5,050.

The Anglo duo were not involved when €2,065 was splashed out on dinner and champagne following a conference in Cannes, France, in March 2005.

They also missed a trip by a group of DDDA officials to London in September 2006 when €1,077 was spent on tickets to a West End production of 'Billy Elliot'.

The DDDA has refused to say why it covered the theatre ticket costs.

Significant costs were also run up in a series of "annual strategy" board meetings held at hotels in Co Wexford.

Costs of €7,785 were incurred in just one day at Dunbrody Country House Hotel in 2006, while €10,733 was spent in a single day at Marlfield House the following year. Dinner at Marlfield was accompanied by €85 bottles of wine.

In stark contrast to the sums lavished on board and executive members, the authority booked three-star hotels and Ryanair flights when bringing community representatives and school principals to a Viking festival in northern France.

In a statement, the DDDA said: "The practice of undertaking expensive foreign or domestic travel is no longer allowed by the authority. No budget exists for these activities.

"Prof Brennan has stressed the need to take action to ensure the authority is returned to a sound financial position."

Irish Independent

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