Sunday 28 December 2014

PAC chief and his wife flew business class at €9,200 cost to taxpayer

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

Published 12/06/2013 | 05:00

John McGuinness and his wife Margaret
John McGuinness and his wife Margaret

EMBATTLED Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness and his wife travelled business class to Seattle for a St Patrick's Day trip at a cost of €4,600 each – despite Mr McGuinness criticising former FAS chief Rody Molloy and his wife for doing similarly.

The Department of Enterprise confirmed the cost of each return flight for Mr McGuinness and his wife, Margaret, was €4,609 – or a total of €9,218.

This was almost half the entire €21,784 spent on the trip for Mr McGuinness, when he was a junior minister, his wife and an official.

During 2008, former FAS chairman Rody Molloy was embroiled in controversy when he brought his wife with him on business-class travel on trips abroad.

And, in his book, 'The House Always Wins', Mr McGuinness said Mr Molloy, who was himself subject to a PAC investigation was "seemingly oblivious to the growing public anger about the revelations" of FAS expenses.

Mr McGuinness wrote: "The following day, seemingly oblivious to the growing public anger about the revelations, Rody Molloy, speaking on 'Today with Pat Kenny' on RTE Radio One, defended his practice of exchanging one first-class airline ticket for two business-class tickets so that his wife could travel with him. In fact, he claimed he was 'entitled' to do so."

Even though Mr McGuinness wasn't a member of the PAC at the time, a report from the committee said FAS should not have paid "flight tickets for former board members, journalists and spouses of executives".

Civil servants also said it was normal for ministers to pay for their spouses on St Patrick's Day trips, and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin – then a senior minister – insisted on paying for his wife.

When Mr McGuinness was junior minister for trade from 2007 to 2009, officials in his department said the cost of spouses was usually only covered when ministers were on St Patrick's Day visits or informal meetings with other EU ministers – but said this was exceptional, with costs usually covered by the minister.

"These cases, however, have tended to be the exception rather than the rule," a civil servant wrote in 2007.

The Irish Independent has detailed how Mr McGuinness wanted to bring his wife with him on foreign trips when he was a junior minister, and although he insisted it was always his intention to pay, he argued that the State should foot the bill on some occasions.

But he said the State paid for his wife on St Patrick's Day trips.

A Dail question revealed the total cost of a St Patrick's trip to Seattle in 2008 trip for Mr McGuinness and his wife, with one official travelling, came to almost €22,000.

The Irish Independent asked the department what class of air travel Mr McGuinness and his wife took, and a spokesperson said: "Both Minister McGuinness and his wife travelled business class to represent the government at the St Patrick's Day celebrations in Seattle in March 2008.

"The cost of each return flight (including VAT) was €4,608.53. The use of business class for long-haul flights of this nature would have been in line with Department of Finance policy at that time."

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Mr Martin had "very strong views" that wives should not usually travel on ministerial trips and paid for his spouse on St Patrick's Day trips.

"Minister Martin has very strong ethical views on the matter, he has never brought his wife on official business trips and in the case of a St Patrick's Day trip to Australia where partners would normally be involved, he insisted that he pay for him herself," an email among officials said.

The emails also show civil servants were asked to book flights for Margaret McGuinness on the Department of Enterprise's account, but Mr McGuiness insists he never asked to pay for my wife on trade missions. Emails show civil servants refused to sign internal forms that are used to give authorisation to book flights on the department's account. But Mr McGuinness said: "At no stage did I ask or expect the department to pay for my wife to travel on a trade mission."

However, on a Dubai trip in 2007, an email exchange between civil servants included one that read: "I'm refusing for the moment to sign the ATO which is solely for the minister's wife."

The Department of Enterprise said ATO "stands for Air Ticket Order and is an internal form that is used to record the advance authorisation for officers to book flights on . . . account".

It is only 12 days after this that the records show Mr McGuinness put down on record that he was always going to pay for his wife.

"It was always my intention to pay for my wife, although I believe there is a strong case to be made for the State paying, despite the costs which such a position would generally create across departments," he wrote.

Mr McGuinness did not respond to calls from the Irish Independent last night.

Irish Independent

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