Friday 25 May 2018

Masters of austerity enjoy 5-star luxury as we tighten our belts

Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

THEY are meant to be the masters of austerity.

But the technocrats making up the IMF/EU bailout delegation know how to live the good life.

As they swing the axe on Ireland's finances, they are staying at one of the most exclusive hotels in the capital -- the five-star Merrion.

A favourite for visiting royalty and heads of state, and earmarked for US President Barack Obama if he stayed the night in Dublin last year, standard rooms can start at €185 a night in the garden wing, rising to €395 for a junior suite while the penthouse costs a cool €2,695.

Despite the hefty price-tag, breakfast is not included.

So if the officials want to have eggs and bacon in their room, they will pay €35 for an Irish breakfast -- plus a €5 delivery charge, while a continental breakfast -- like most other things emanating from that direction -- is more price sensitive, a snip at €27.

Similarly if they want to dine in-house, the officials will pay a reasonable €29.95 for an early-bird special in the Cellar Restaurant. But if those interminable meetings drag on, they could end up forking out €45 for a plate of grilled black sole from Kilmore Quay from the a la carte menu.

However, the IMF's Ajai Chopra, the face of the delegation although he is not taking part in this visit, has been known to venture beyond the confines of Merrion Street for a bite.

On one of his first visits to Dublin in November 2010 as the details of the €85bn rescue plan for Ireland were being hammered out, he and a group of IMF colleagues were reported to have enjoyed a meal at the award-winning Rasam restaurant in Glasthule, near Dun Laoghaire.

But basing the delegation at the luxurious Merrion hotel does offer one cost-saving benefit -- its proximity to the Department of Finance.

Officials from the IMF, ECB and European Commission are but a hop, skip and jump across the road from Finance Minister Michael Noonan, meaning no extra transportation costs.

Indeed Mr Chopra, as deputy director of the European department at the IMF, could show some Irish big-wigs a thing or two about cutting down on the Mercs.

He is often seen pounding the pavements around the city centre as he goes to meetings at the EU offices on Dawson Street.

Around six figures make up the core of the bailout delegation and following in their wake is a team of junior officials. While the size of the group varies from visit to visit, it can be more than 20-strong.

Apart from Mr Chopra, the other main figures are Klaus Masuch, the ECB's head of EU countries division; Istvan Szekely, a Hungarian economist and director of economic and financial affairs at the European Commission; Sevn Langedijk, another economist at the Commission; Craig Beaumont, an assistant director at the IMF and Ireland mission chief; and Johan Mathisen, a senior economist at the European department of the IMF.

And there is good news for the already cash-strapped exchequer -- the final bill for the delegation's expenses is met by their respective employers, not the Irish taxpayer.

Irish Independent

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