Saturday 20 January 2018

No shortage of volunteers for US trip to carry the flame

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

How many politicians and officials does it take to carry the eternal flame from JFK's grave back to Co Wexford?

Quite a few, judging from the sizeable contingent which jetted to Washington DC last week as part of a "JFK initiative" – run in conjunction with The Gathering – to help transport the precious cargo.

At an estimated cost of €2,300 per head, the group of 10 politicans and officials plus five soldiers flew out last Sunday morning – and the majority stayed until Thursday, despite Tuesday's short handover ceremony lasting only a few hours.

The party included Paul Kehoe, Government chief whip and Junior Minister for Defence; Brian Spain, director of the Department of Defence; Paul Crowdle, chairman of New Ross Town Council; Cllr Michael Sheehan of New Ross Town Council; Cllr John Hegarty, cathaoirleach, Wexford Co Council; Anthony Bailey, town clerk at New Ross Town Council; Adrian Doyle, manager of Wexford Co Council; Eamonn Hore, director of Services, Wexford Co Council; Niamh Fitzgibbon, vice chair of New Ross Town Council and Failte Ireland's Tara Kerry.

They stayed at the four-star Circle Du Point Hotel in the centre of Washington where rooms for the 'chic boutique' experience are $200 (€152) per night.

One member of the group, Cllr Michael Sheehan, ordered a $5 can of coke to his room, while another, Eamon Hore of Wexford Co Council, chomped on a packet of M&Ms at the cost of $6.60.

Cllr Adrian Doyle ordered dinner every day to his hotel room – spending $105.60 on room service on one day alone ($210.65 in total), while another councillor, John Hegarty, spent $50.43 on three long- distance phone calls.

Junior Minister for Arts Heritage and Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley was also dispatched to the airport to meet and greet Mr Kehoe who was responsible for conveying the flame back to Dublin.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence confirmed to the Sunday Independent that it covered the costs of the trip for Mr Kehoe, Mr Spain, and five soldiers who took part in the proceedings.

On the costs for the rest of the group, Mr Crowdle said: "From what I remember we have a budget of €10,000 from the town council, €20,000 from the county council and more from The Gathering."

A spokesperson for The Gathering told the Sunday Independent: "Through the IPB Gathering Fund, Wexford Co Council received €25,000 allocated to three events. And they received between €10,000 and €16,000 specifically for the JFK event."

Failte Ireland covered the costs of Ms Kerry's trip. A spokesperson said: "It was all business, no pleasure. We didn't send over 20 managers on a jolly – we sent over one who needed to be there."

One person who opted to pay her own way was Ms Fitzgibbon. Explaining her decision the vice-chair of New Ross Town Council said: "We decided who would go to Washington at a meeting earlier in the year.

"As the time drew closer, I realised I wanted to be part of and I felt there was a lack of female representation there. It was an all-male delegation. And I'm always one for putting my best foot forward. So I asked my fellow members on the council if I could be included in the delegation and I received support from seven out of the eight.

"Though I could have gone with that, I didn't want to go if there was one descending voice so I decided to pay my own way. It cost me roughly €2,300 – but it was worth every penny and I am delighted to have been a part of it."

Irish Independent

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