Hogan left climate change summit a day early for yacht race reception
Published 09/02/2012 | 05:00
ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan left a crucial climate change summit in South Africa a day before it ended to visit the Volvo Ocean Race in Cape Town, the Irish Independent can reveal.
Mr Hogan was already on a plane home when the Durban climate change deal was reached in the early hours of Sunday, December 11.
And he had left the summit the previous morning to attend a Tourism Ireland function at the yacht race.
In the face of vehement opposition to his plans for new septic tank inspection fees from rural communities Mr Hogan has been stressing that he has to impose inspections to comply with European environmental rules.
However, newly released documents show how he left before the end of the most important international environment summit in years and attended the tourism event at the Volvo Ocean Race which is due to finish in Galway in July.
A "senior official" finished negotiations on Ireland's behalf.
The deal to bring the race back to Ireland was announced by former Taoiseach Brian Cowen almost two years ago.
But it's Fine Gael ministers who have attended each port of call along the race route so far.
Agriculture Minister and sailing enthusiast Simon Coveney attended the start of the race in Alicante, Spain, last November.
And just last month, Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Leo Varadkar did the honours in Abu Dhabi.
Mr Hogan arrived at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Durban on Monday, December 5, a month after he caused outrage amongst the environmental lobby when he said climate change legislation was not a priority of the Government.
More than 190 countries were represented at the conference, where they eventually agreed to reduce emissions by 2020.
Mr Hogan addressed the summit and attended a number of "co-ordination" meetings with other EU delegations among other engagements.
The summit was supposed to end on Friday, December 9, but heated negotiations were still ongoing when Mr Hogan left Durban on a flight for Cape Town that Saturday. Tourism Ireland's Volvo Ocean Race bash for South African journalists and tour operators began that morning at 10.15am.
Approximately 60 guests met the crew of the Sanya, a yacht sponsored by Tourism Ireland, and enjoyed champagne, canapes and Irish music before being invited to board a specially chartered yacht from where they could watch an in-port race and served a lunch prepared by Irish chef, Maurice Keller of Wicklow's Arlington Lodge.
Mr Hogan's diary shows how he was due to arrive at the event at 1.30pm and stay until 4pm before transferring to the airport that evening.
Climate change negotiations concluded in Durban while the minster was en route back to Ireland.
A spokesman for Mr Hogan said that the climate talks had been scheduled to end on Friday, December 9, and said that "the minister's tickets were booked for a Saturday departure as is the norm".
The spokesman said: "A senior official was present until Sunday", and he added, "The EU presidency acts on behalf of the EU as a single entity in terms of overall negotiations".
He said Mr Hogan's attendance at the race incurred no additional cost because when the trip was arranged "there were no seats available for travel back via Johannesburg, and Cape Town was the only option".
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Tourism Ireland said it was "very important" that ministers attend the organisation's promotional functions abroad "in terms of delivering the message that we mean business".
The Volvo Ocean Race started out in Alicante in October, but will hold its grand finale in Galway in July and is expected to attract a global TV audience of 1.3 billion.
Overall Mr Hogan's trip to South Africa cost almost €30,000 including €1,500 spent on an Irish Embassy-hosted reception for 125 invited guests in the exclusive Durban Club.
Mr Hogan has been under fire this week over his efforts to introduce charges on rural householders who have septic tanks.
In a climbdown he reduced the new inspection fees from €50 to €5 for people who sign up to the new inspection regime in the first three months.