Monday 5 December 2016

Taxpayer foots bill for flying fears

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Published 09/02/2012 | 05:00

Dermot McCarthy: row over pension package
Dermot McCarthy: row over pension package

A SENIOR civil servant spent €1,500 on a train ticket to go from London to Berlin on official duties -- because he was afraid of flying.

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Former Department of Taoiseach secretary general Dermot McCarthy's train journeys are among the many expenses which have been released.

Others include a royalty bill of almost €900 for music played while callers to the department were left on hold.

And a chef was regularly hired to cook breakfast for former Taoiseach Brian Cowen's cabinet at a cost of €300 for their weekly breakfast meeting -- even after the announcement of the state bailout in late November 2010.

But the expenses for 2010 also reveal the impact of Mr McCarthy's fear of flying, which was well known in the civil service before his retirement last year. The spending files from his department show that he took a train journey costing €1,475 from London to Berlin, leaving on September 21, 2010, and returning five days later.

He got to England by ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, costing €102. The nature of the official engagement was not specified.

In the same year, Mr McCarthy also went twice by ferry from Dublin to Holyhead in Wales and then on to London by train. In 2005, Mr McCarthy famously travelled by ferry and train to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome.

Mr McCarthy hit the headlines when it emerged that he had received a combined pension and severance package worth more than €700,000.

He served as secretary general to the Department of the Taoiseach and as secretary general to the Government for 11 years. He is entitled to an annual pension of €142,670.

Culture

The details of thousands of items paid for by his former department in 2010 were obtained and published by thestory.ie website.

Last night, the Department of the Taoiseach revealed that there was now a different "breakfast culture" in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's cabinet.

Back in 2010, Mr Cowen's cabinet ate breakfast together almost every week, usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday -- and by the end of the year, the food and chef hire bill was €12,697.

But Mr Kenny has kept his cabinet on stricter rations with just three breakfasts provided at a cost of €166 since coming into office a year ago.

And it has been all pastries and scones rather than cooked breakfasts.

The department confirmed last night that it was still paying to use a piece by Mozart used when telephone callers to the department are on hold.

Although no royalties are due on the music due to its age, it had to pay €889 to the Phonographic Performance Ireland industry body for the performance of the music by an orchestra.

Also in 2010, the department spent €107,000 on training, seminars and courses. This included a €395 spend on a one day work-life balance course for a junior civil servant.

The department said last night it was satisfied this represented good value for money and that it was below the recommended civil service level of 4pc of payroll. It also said that no staff members had attended work-life balance courses last year.

Another €37,600 was spent on taxis and €28,000 on limousine hire during Mr Cowen's foreign visits.

The department also spent €104 to buy engraved trinket boxes from the Dublin Crystal company for President Barack Obama's young daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama.

The Department of the Taoiseach has less than 200 staff.

Irish Independent

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