€34,000 bill for Harney's 13-day New Zealand trip
HEALTH Minister Mary Harney's controversial trip to New Zealand for St Patrick's Day cost taxpayers over €34,000, according to her department.
Ms Harney faced widespread criticism for refusing to return home when the Tallaght Hospital X-ray crisis emerged during the visit.
Figures released last night revealed the 13-day visit by Ms Harney, her husband Brian Geoghegan, and three officials cost €34,318.
The costs included:
- €19,990 spent on flights.
- €2,390 on taxis and car hire.
- €5,165 on hotels.
- €665 spent on a dinner hosted by Ms Harney for an honorary consul and an Enterprise Ireland client.
- €380 spent on gifts.
- And €5,726 in unspecified expenses.
The figures emerged days after the Irish Independent revealed a visit by Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe to Korea and Japan last month cost taxpayers almost €30,000.
Opposition TDs last night criticised the level of spending on Ms Harney's trip, with Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly stating the money could have been better spent vaccinating children.
"It is widely acknowledged St Patrick's Day is a special day and one on which Ireland of course should be promoted. But there is no doubt in my mind that this is wanton waste of public money," said Dr Reilly.
"That the nation's finances are in such a perilous state and that there was a crisis ongoing at Tallaght Hospital in her absence casts this waste of money in an even worse light. By my reckoning 4,000 young girls could have had cervical vaccinations with the money spent on this over-the-top trip."
However, the trip was staunchly defended last night by Dr Philip Crowley, the deputy chief medical officer at the Department of Health, who took part in the visit.
Dr Crowley told the Irish Independent Ms Harney spent time examining how legislation governing the licensing of health clinics and services works in New Zealand. He said this was very important work as currently there are only limited restrictions on who can set up a health clinic or service in Ireland and the department is planning to develop legislation in this area.
Dr Crowley said Ms Harney also examined New Zealand's successful approach to tackling high rates of smoking in poor communities to see whether similar initiatives could be used in Ireland.
While the minister was away, it emerged that that 58,000 X-rays of adult patients, from between 2005 and the end of 2009, had not been reviewed by a consultant radiologist.
One patient died as a result of a delayed diagnosis, while another was receiving treatment for cancer. It also emerged there was a backlog last October of almost 3,500 GP referral letters which had not been reviewed by a consultant.
Despite the unfolding crisis, Ms Harney elected to continue her visit.
Meanwhile, the costs of foreign St Patrick's Day visits by junior ministers at the Department of Health also emerged last night.
Minister of State Aine Brady's four-day visit to Copenhagen and Oslo cost €3,465.
Junior minister John Moloney's three-day visit to Edinburgh cost €3,564, while Minister for Children Barry Andrew's six-day visit to New York cost €5,523.