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Politicians' Capetown bill tallied to €86,000

EIGHT TDs and senators who went to Cape Town at a cost of €86,000 last year racked up a €1,500 bill for a chauffeur to ferry them from their VIP airport lounge to departures.

The parliamentarians, and four officials, went on the nine-day South African trip to attend a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in April last year.

The group, led by the then Ceann Comhairle, John O'Donoghue, gathered at the Hounslow suite in Heathrow Airport on April 11.

Two cars were dispatched to meet Mr O'Donoghue and his colleagues at the Hounslow suite, and waited four hours until it was time to transfer them to departures for their flight to Cape Town.

They were accorded the same VIP treatment on the return leg of their journey, with two chauffeur-driven cars dispatched to meet the delegation at the Hounslow suite. The bill paid to Cartel Direct, a car-hire firm owned by the son of a now-deceased Fianna Fail minister in London, came to €1,598.84.

Just in case they should be out of pocket during the trip, each of the eight TDs and senators got an advance of between €500 and €600 before they left. The money was deducted from the expenses they submitted after the trip.

Frank Fahy, a Fianna Fail TD, claimed €1,222; Tom Hayes, a Fine Gael TD, claimed €1,235, which included a mobile phone bill of more than €500 for calls clocked up while abroad.

Peter Kelly, a Fianna Fail TD, claimed allowances of €1,146; Fianna Fail senator Maria Corrigan claimed €1,059; Denis O'Donovan, a Fianna Fail senator from Cork, claimed for €1,152; Frank Feighan, a Fianna Fail TD, claimed €794; and Labour Senator Brendan Ryan claimed €965. The politician who, at €699, claimed least in allowances was John O'Donoghue. He was later forced to resign as Ceann Comhairle because of his lavish expenses.

The bill for the party's stay at the Westin Grand Capetown was paid for by the Irish Parliamentary Association's Visa business card, which included the €3,000 cost of a suite for Mr O'Donoghue, who was accompanied by his wife, Kate Ann. The credit card bill also included a payment to Boots in Dublin for €52.35 and a €3 charge for using the internet. Other unspecified charges brought the total to €17,269.

While in Capetown, the delegation hosted a dinner for the Niall Mellon Foundation that cost €575.34.

The latest figures were released by the Houses of the Oireachtas under the Freedom of Information Act. The final €86,000 tally included the cost of inoculating the group and four officials who accompanied them at a charge of €170 per visitor.

Documents also reveal how Cecilia Keaveney, a Fianna Fail senator, was one of the best-travelled deputies in 2008. Her trips included a two-day visit to Kiev at a cost of €2,334 and Cape Verde for five nights at a cost of €4,212.

Senator Keaveney said the travel was connected to her work for the Council of Europe, as she was preparing an international report on youth and sports.

Senator Ivor Callely also got in quite of a bit foreign travel, as head of the Irish delegation of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

In 2008, he attended meetings in Vienna (€1,140); Kazakhstan (€6,165); New Hampshire (€7,164); Helsinki (€2,381) and Toronto and Washington (€9,820).

The latter trip -- to attend an OSCE briefing on election monitoring -- included a €213 bill for taxis and €396 for telephone calls.

Sunday Independent