Thursday 18 December 2014

Mandarins tuck into 'Munchies' 
at meetings

... while Enda and his ministers shop in Lidl for tea and biscuits

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Frank McGrath

Government ministers and senior civil servants are regularly at loggerheads over how the country's dwindling finances are best spent, but when it comes to budgeting for tea and sandwiches it is clear the mandarins come out on top.

New figures released by the Taoiseach's Department show Enda Kenny and his ministers regularly shop in Tesco and Lidl when buying refreshments for the weekly Cabinet meetings in Government Buildings.

On average, the Fine Gael and Labour Party Coalition spends little more than €15 on biscuits and pastries for ministers to nibble on when they gather to discuss the weekly agenda.

But it appears their civil service underlings have more refined palates and, according to the figures, are more accustomed to finer snacking fare.

Sandwich platters worth €35 are bought for the most senior civil servants in each Department when they hold their weekly meeting of secretaries general.

Munchies, which has an outlet on Baggot Street around the corner from Leinster House, is a particular favourite. The upmarket sandwich outlet specialises in platters for business meetings and mandarins can choose from a range of gourmet sandwiches, cakes, cheese and even smoothies.

The weekly secretary general meeting is chaired by the Taoiseach's most senior civil servant, Martin Fraser.

Responding to queries, a Government spokesman revealed secretaries general enjoyed breakfast pastries at their weekly meetings while health conscious ministers opted for fruit and yogurts.

"In relation to payments to Munchies, these were for the provision of refreshments such as breakfast pastries for weekly meetings of secretaries general and included sandwiches for other occasional meetings within the Department including some Government meetings." he said.

"Expenditure in Tesco was mainly on breakfast items such as fruit, juice and yogurts for morning Cabinet meetings," he added.

In total, the Taoiseach's Department spent more than €45,000 on catering last year. The majority of the spending was on a reception for the National Day of Commemoration in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin.

The event, celebrating the lives of the Irish men and women who died in world wars or on service with the United Nations, was attended by around 1,200 people, including the Taoiseach and President Michael D. Higgins. The total cost of catering the event was €20,000.

Catering costs also included almost €3,000 spent on lunch and refreshments for a secretary general summit held in Dublin Castle in September.

A secretary general can earn up to €200,000 depending on how many years service they hold, while a minister earns €120,000 plus expenses. Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell recently asked to be moved to another position in the civil service after the publication of a damning review of his department.

Mr Purcell became embroiled in the garda scandals which led to the twin resignations of former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Mr Purcell will remain in his position until his successor is appointed following an open competition.

John Moran, who was the first non-civil servant to become Department of Finance secretary general, voluntarily left his position in May. Mr Moran said he decided to leave because he felt he had reached the personal targets he set when he was appointed in 2012.

He was replaced by Derek Moran, who is a career civil servant working in the Department of Finance.

The Sunday Independent last week revealed the Department of the Taoiseach secretary general's love for rap music and football. Mr Fraser used his official diary to schedule his free time to watch World Cup matches and attend Jay-Z concerts.

Both Mr Fraser and Mr Purcell attended the meeting in the Taoiseach's office the night before Commissioner Callinan resigned. The Taoiseach told Mr Purcell to visit Mr Callinan's home on that night but denies he sacked the garda commissioner.

Meanwhile, Freedom of Information records from the Taoiseach's department show Mr Kenny's officials spent more than €7,634 on gifts for foreign dignitaries and visiting world leaders last year. Gifts included Newgrange cuff links, salmon of knowledge brooches and Foxford scarves.

The Department spent €550 on crystal key rings engraved with the Government Buildings logo and almost €440 was paid for leather notebook cases.

Mr Kenny bought US president Barack Obama a €150 tulip crystal bowl when he stayed in the White House during his St. Patrick's Day visit last year.

The Taoiseach presented Michelle Obama with a hamper and cutting board. He spent almost €100 on copies of My Own Irish Journal - an illustrated notebook filled with Irish proverbs and history - which he gave as gifts on his US visit.

He spent €80 in the Kilkenny Shop on a gift for Dan Rooney when he retired as US Ambassador to Ireland.

Sunday Independent

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