Ministers 'afraid' to go abroad over costs
Published 22/01/2010 | 05:00
MINISTERS are now "afraid" to go abroad due to the intense scrutiny over their foreign travel expenses.
The claim was made by the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, David Cooney, who said ministerial travel was important for developing the country's image abroad.
"I'm slightly worried that people are afraid to travel because of the publicity that attracts. We have to promote ourselves abroad. If we don't, we will not prosper as a country," he added.
At the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday, Mr Cooney said he had issued guidelines which specified that ministers on official travel should be given a "good room in a good hotel" -- as opposed to the five-star hotel stays of the past.
He said an embassy car or people carrier should be used to transport ministers, with limousines hired "on the odd occasion" for prestige or security.
Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue was forced to resign last year in the wake of revelations about the extent of his foreign-travel spending in that office, and while he was Arts, Sports and Tourism Minister.
Fine Gael committee chairman Bernard Allen had asked if Irish embassy staff were being used as the "fall guy" by ministers who claimed they knew nothing of the true cost of their accommodation abroad
Mr Cooney said it was probably reasonable to assume that ministers were not always aware of the costs in the past.
But he added: "I think that's changed frankly. Ministers take a very careful interest in how much their trips cost."
Mr Cooney said he had instructed his staff to send information about all of the proposed costs of any trip -- including hotels, car hire and airport VIP lounges -- for ministers' prior approval.
Mr Allen said he was glad PAC recommendations on controlling costs seemed to be having an impact.