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Thursday 22 February 2018

Ming does Morocco – and he put on his 'best suit'

Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan
Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

LUKE 'Ming' Flanagan marked himself present in Leinster House when he was on all-expenses-paid, five-day junket to Morocco.

The controversial TD asked to have the Dail attendance register altered on returning from a jaunt that included stays in five-star hotels, sightseeing tours of Marrakesh and banquets with dignitaries in Casablanca.

Mr Flanagan was part of a cross-party delegation led by Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke that also included Fine Gael TD John O'Mahony, Labour TD John Lyons and Fine Gael Senator Imelda Henry.

Apart from the Roscommon politician, Ms Henry was the only other member of the group who requested to have the days spent in North Africa reconciled.

The Moroccan taxpayer picked up the tab for the majority of the expenses incurred on the five-day "bilateral" state visit.

But the Irish Government is now expected to repay the favour and host a delegation from Morocco in the near future.

The Irish taxpayer did fork out €6,333 to cover the cost of the group's flights, gifts for their hosts and travel claims by Mr Lyons and Ms Henry.

Deputies and senators are required to clock in to Leinster House for a minimum of 120 days each year to be entitled to their full travel and subsistence payments.

Days can be reconciled if an Oireachtas member has a certified sick note, if they are representing the State abroad, or under "extraordinary circumstances".

Not long before the announcement of last year's cut-throat austerity budget, Mr Flanagan and his colleagues jetted out to the Moroccan capital Rabat. According to the group's itinerary, they were picked up from the airport at 2:30pm on Sunday, November 4, and brought to the luxurious Hasan La Tour Hotel in the heart of the city.

The prestigious five-star hotel is a combination of Moorish and Andalusian architecture with room prices ranging from between €200 to €1,000 per night.

That evening, the group was whisked away to the city made famous by the Humphrey Bogart movie of the same name, Casablanca, where they were the guests of the Honorary Consul of Ireland, Abdelhak Bennani.

A diplomatic controversy threatened to ruin the visit when the Moroccan government recalled its ambassador to Ireland the week before the delegation arrived in protest over a meeting between Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and the leader of a Sahrawi independence movement.

Tensions were eased by the travelling party, who had a number of high-profile meetings with senior Moroccan politicians on the second day of their trip.

Mr Flanagan's dress sense has been the subject of much debate in Leinster House, but sources on the trip said the Roscommon politician was wearing his "best suit" for all formal events.

The fact-finding mission moved to Marrakesh on day three.

There were no meetings scheduled for this day but the group was brought on a sightseeing tour of the city's famous markets and monuments.

A meeting with a member of the Marrakesh tourism council was scheduled for the next morning, and that was to be followed by lunch and more sightseeing. The public representatives returned to Rabat later that day for an early morning return flight to Dublin.

Mr Burke and Mr O'Mahony said they did not seek to have the days abroad included on the Dail register because they had already met the attendance requirements for the year.

Neither Mr Flanagan nor Mr Lyons responded to requests for comment.

Details of the trip were revealed in documents released by the Houses of the Oireachtas under the Freedom of Information Act.

Irish Independent

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