News Politics

Saturday 30 August 2014

Irish ambassadors are like 'janitors', civil servant tells Dail committee

Daniel McConnell, Political Correspondent

Published 07/03/2014 | 02:30

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David Cooney said he’d prefer to watch ‘Match of the Day’ than going to a diplomatic reception. Picture: TOM BURKE
David Cooney said he’d prefer to watch ‘Match of the Day’ than going to a diplomatic reception. Picture: TOM BURKE

IRISH ambassadors are no more than "janitors" for embassies abroad and don't have the "pampered lifestyles" most think they do, the most senior Department of Foreign Affairs official claimed.

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David Cooney, secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, was yesterday defending the payment of €21m in tax-free allowances to 325 overseas officials in embassies across the globe. That works out at €66,000 each on average.

Irish ambassadors operating in our 73 missions across the world are paid salaries between €100,000 and €130,000 a year.

However, the range of additional allowances that diplomatic staff are entitled to were the subject of intense questioning at yesterday's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Mr Cooney, in a heated spat with Labour TD Derek Nolan at the meeting, took exception to the line of question and rejected any assertion that the life of an ambassador is a "pampered one".

"I get the sense you are trying to probe as to are these people having a good time at the State's expense. That's not the way I found it. There is a lot of disruption involved, it is no picnic. I'd rather be at home on a Saturday night with a beer watching 'Match of the Day' than going out to some reception," Mr Cooney told the committee.

"We are often acting as janitors for embassies. It can be hard work. People need to know what it is like to look after an embassy abroad," he added.

The committee heard that some of the allowances paid to ambassadors and their diplomatic staff include: rent allowance totalling €7.9m in 2012; cost of living allowances totalling €2.4m; local post allowance for clothing and climate adjustment costing €5.5m; school fees for the children of diplomats costing €1.1m; and entertaining allowances of €2m.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Mr Nolan said he was simply trying to question the merit of the amount spent on allowances and pointedly criticised Mr Cooney's expressions of "disdain for the committee".

At the committee, he said: "It is a considerable amount of money; it represents 28pc of your entire budget for that area. All I am trying to ascertain is whether we are getting value for money. I am entitled to ask the question without being scoffed at."

FARCE

At one point, seeking to highlight the difficulties experienced by some diplomatic staff, Mr Cooney ironically referred to the "cushy life in Africa".

Mr Nolan, angered by this remark concluded his questioning by asking: "Would you say your staff in Africa on their good salaries, and getting their allowances are earning more than local janitors in those countries?"

Mr Cooney simply replied: "I don't want this to descend into some kind of farce."

Irish Independent

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