Ministers take flight despite first-class ban
MINISTERS will still travel to the four corners of the globe to celebrate St Patrick's Day but it may not be in the style they've become accustomed to after Taoiseach Brian Cowen imposed a ban on VIP perks.
He ordered his Cabinet to keep costs such as flights and car hire to a minimum and concentrate on securing jobs for the economy during visits to 23 countries for the national day of celebration.
Ministers will visit nations with strong Irish links, such as the US, Britain, Canada and Australia, but they will also travel to strategically important trading partners such as China, Russia, India, Germany and France.
Mr Cowen will meet US President Barack Obama in the White House on St Patrick's Day and present him with the traditional bowl of shamrock.
He and Foreign Minister Micheal Martin will also meet Chicago's Irish-American mayor Richard M Daley and travel to Silicon Valley in California to view hi-tech projects there.
But there will be a strong focus on keeping costs down with his office saying that first-class flights, limousines, hotel suites and VIP airport lounges would be banned unless there was a "compelling reason" to book them.
In total, 23 ministers are flying abroad (including Mr Cowen), which is up on the 17 who travelled last year, but still much less than the 33 who took part in the worldwide St Patrick's Day celebrations in 2008. The cost of ministerial travel then was more than €500,000 but this was estimated to have been halved last year.
Mr Cowen said the focus of this year's St Patrick's Day programme was on creating jobs.
"The road to economic recovery and new jobs for our people is through innovating at home and growing our exports abroad. That is why ministers will be visiting 16 of our main trading partners, as well as significant emerging markets in Europe and Asia," he said.
Ministers will speak at events organised by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA, and attend business breakfasts and chamber of commerce dinners. Health Minister Mary Harney, who stayed at home last year, is going to New Zealand this year.
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe is off to Japan and South Korea. Junior Minister Dick Roche is opening an Irish Film Festival in Moscow and meeting with the Russian deputy prime minister.
Junior Minister for Drugs Strategy John Curran will witness the London Eye wheel turning green, while Junior Minister for Trade Billy Kelleher will be in Sydney for the greening of its famous Opera House.