€21,000 bill for one-night stay in Rome
THE Department of Foreign Affairs has defended spending over €21,000 on just one night's accommodation for a state delegation at a five-star Rome hotel.
A suite booked for President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin at the Grand Hotel de la Minerve cost over €3,100 for the night, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Health Minister Mary Harney and Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny were also part of the delegation who travelled to Rome for Pope John Paul II's funeral in 2005. The total bill for the accommodation, newspapers, a meeting room and a hairdresser came to €21,525.64.
Yesterday, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs defended the high cost of the suites and rooms provided for the dignitaries attending the funeral.
"The national delegation travelled there at a time of unprecedented demand for accommodation in Rome," he said.
He said that the bookings had to be made within the obvious time constraints of the funeral, which took place six days after the Pope's death.
The funeral of Pope John Paul II has been described as the biggest ever and was attended by 10 monarchs, 59 heads of state and 17 heads of government. Four million people poured into the city to pay their respects to the Pontiff.
Asked about the €1,200 spent on a room for Fine Gael's Enda Kenny, a party spokesman pointed out he had been invited by the President to be part of the state delegation.
"He had no involvement in any of the arrangements in relation to the visit," he added.
A large suite booked for the President and her husband cost €3,198; a junior suite for Bertie Ahern cost €1,650 and a deluxe room for Mary Harney cost €1,200, plus another €765 for her private secretary.
Government advisers and senior civil servants were put up at a cost of €740 minimum for a standard room for the night, according to figures released to Ken Foxe of the 'Sunday Tribune'.
The bill was initially paid by the Irish Embassy in Rome through the Department of Foreign Affairs, with individual departments ultimately picking up the tab for their minister and entourage.
The Grand Hotel de la Minerve, which claims to boast the most beautiful terrace in Rome, is situated close to the Pantheon and the parliament.
According to its website, one of its standard rooms is available this Saturday for €430, while the same suite the President stayed in costs €1,130.