Oireachtas foreign travel bill falls €250,000 in year
THEY'RE still spending our money, but just not as much. Politicians appear to be heeding the calls for modest spending on trips abroad with a big drop in the amount of cash claimed on expenses.
TDs and senators on Oireachtas committees have billed the taxpayer for under €150,000 in international travel costs this year compared to almost €400,000 last year.
They still enjoyed a huge travel budget of €254,000 for 2009, but by August they had spent just €90,000 and the final figure is expected to come in at around €150,000. Around €100,000 will be returned to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
The committees turned down multiple invitations from foreign parliaments and conference organisers and travelled in smaller numbers and to less far-flung locations.
Under strict new Department of Finance rules, every trip by ministers, officials and committees have to be recorded and monitored, with the emphasis on value for money.
Compared to 2008 when the Oireachtas committees took around 100 trips, politicians this year took just 29 trips in the first eight months of the year.
With the exception of trips to Gaza, Canada, Israel and Croatia, the country's TDs and senators stayed much closer to home this year, travelling to London, Brussels, Paris, Prague and Stockholm.
Top of the 2009 traveller charts was chairman of the European Affairs Committee, Bernard Durkan, who went on eight trips to Tel Aviv, Stockholm, Bucharest, Prague, Zagreb, Edinburgh and London. His eight trips cost €6,550 in flights and accommodation.
The most expensive trip this year was to Edmonton in Canada by Fine Gael TD James Bannon, Fianna Fail's Michael Fitzpatrick and Camillus Glynn, and an official. The Environment and Local Government Committee members were attending an environment conference at a cost of €14,289 to the taxpayer.
The second most expensive trip was to Zagreb in Croatia for a "European Affairs Committee Parliamentary Visit" which cost €6,084 or €1,588 for each of the four members.
The bills for the Oireachtas committee members are much smaller compared to this time last year, when travel receipts amounted to €382,000.
In 2008, one trip to Australia, New Zealand and Thailand by eight TDs and senators came to €55,683 as part of meeting with the "ethics committees" of the national parliaments and a review of the committee system.
Last night, Fianna Fail TD Noel O'Flynn who chairs the group supervising such trips said TDs and senators were conscious of savings.
"It was a conscious decision that much of the travel would be centred around Europe," he said.
"It's very important that committees share their experience and briefs with other parliaments throughout the world but this is a time when we said, let's try and do as much business as possible within Europe," he added.