HEALTH Minister Mary Harney enjoyed a seven-night stay in a "tranquil river retreat" five-star hotel while at home record numbers of patients lay on hospital trolleys awaiting treatment.
The Irish Independent confirmed that Ms Harney checked into The Peninsula Hotel, Bangkok in Thailand on December 28 and stayed for seven nights until January 4.
The minister booked under the name Geoghegan while on a private three-week break with her husband, Brian.
The couple stayed in a balcony room of the hotel that guarantees "unrivalled peace and tranquillity in exceptional comfort".
Peninsula management confirmed that a balcony room usually costs 16,000 baht -- around €400-- a night, meaning that their accommodation alone could have cost almost €3,000.
Ms Harney booked through a travel agent so the hotel could not confirm the exact price paid.
The hotel, which boasts luxury suites with terraces, jacuzzis and unrivalled panoramas of the city, is designed in a W-shape to ensure river views from every room.
A balcony room enables guests to "feel the breeze in their hair" and create their "own personal paradise with a custom-designed dinner-a-deux overlooking the Chao Phraya River".
The room is 480sq ft with a walk-in wardrobe and is furnished with a sofa and coffee table, dressing table and furnished balcony.
It has electric curtains and a minibar. The marble en-suite bathroom has mood lighting, a TV and radio system and a hands-free telephone.
There is also an executive work desk in case the minister felt like addressing any problems back home in comfort.
Dr James Reilly, Fine Gael's health spokesman, declined to comment on the minister's trip, saying it was paid for by herself and therefore her "own business".
However, he did criticise her absence during the health crisis.
"Every year we have a crisis in A&E. The failure to plan for it is extraordinary," he said. "Ms Harney's absence throughout it sends a message that she is disconnected from what is happening."
Last year she spent more than €34,000 on a trip to New Zealand