A FINE GAEL election hopeful clocked up a foreign travel bill of more than €15,000 during his time as lord mayor of Cork, the Irish Independent has learned.
The costs relate to five foreign trips by Dara Murphy during his 12-month term as mayor in 2009 and 2010.
Mr Murphy, who is running in Cork North Central, said the money was spent promoting the city and attracting potential foreign investment.
Visits to San Francisco, New York and Shanghai cost taxpayers €8,826, €2,969, and €2,738 respectively, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.
Further visits to London and Brussels cost €913 and €390 respectively -- bringing the total spend on foreign travel to €15,836. The San Francisco visit included car hire costs of more than €1,200.
Invoices state a limousine was hired to collect Mr Murphy from the airport, but this has been disputed by him.
Mr Murphy was the country's best-paid local politician at the time of the trips, receiving €126,000 in payments, allowances and expenses over the course of his term.
He defended the travel costs last night. "I would concede that, in the current climate, people are right to watch what is being spent. But anybody who is trying to promote a city and a region has to get out there," he said.
Mr Murphy was accompanied on a number of visits by his wife Tanya, whose travel and accommodation costs were also met out of council funds.
Documents released to the Irish Independent show flights for Mr Murphy and two others to San Francisco in March last year cost €6,504.
Invoices from Bauer's Limousine Service show it was hired to provide a six-passenger limousine to pick up the party at the airport, at a cost of $135 (€99).
Bauer's also provided an 'executive shuttle' to bring Mr Murphy and others to visit the headquarters of Apple Computers and McAfee in Silicon Valley. Both firms have large operations in Cork.
Mr Murphy insisted that a limousine was not used and said "the most economical quote was got" for car hire.
Accommodation costs in San Francisco and Shanghai, which are both twinned with Cork, were met by the host cities.
Mr Murphy said he was hopeful the Chinese would invest in an Asian hub in the Cork docklands.