Thursday 18 January 2018

Foreign Affairs shelled out €50.7m since last election

Department spent tens of millions but insists staff were not pampered

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

THE Department of Foreign Affairs has provided a €50.7m bonanza for external consultants and service providers, including removal firms, since the last general election.

Officials say the figure was bumped up by additional spending related to Ireland's presidency of the European Council in the first six months of 2013 and an OSCE ministerial meeting in 2012.

However, there were several other eye-catching items on a list of spending obtained by the Sunday Independent that had no connection to either event.

These included €4.2m paid to removal firms to transfer officials' household effects when they departed from or returned home from postings abroad.

A further €1.8m was spent with two Dublin travel agencies, Carlson Wagonlit and Club Travel, on travel for officials and diplomats.

Business consulting giant BearingPoint has been paid €7.2m to provide technical support for the maintenance of the department's automated passport system since the Fine Gael/Labour coalition came to power.

BT Ireland has been paid €3.9m in the same period to provide an IT help desk for staff.

Details of the expenditure emerged just days after the Secretary General at the department, David Cooney, defended giving €21m in tax-free allowances to staff working at our embassies abroad.

The sum works out at around €66,000 each on average, and in the case of ambassadors comes on top of salaries ranging from €100,000 to €130,000.

The allowances include sums to help cover rent, the cost of living, clothing, entertainment, climate adjustment, and school fees for diplomats' children.

When questioned about the allowances at the Dail's Public Accounts Committee, Mr Cooney insisted that foreign officials did not have pampered lifestyles.

However, the committee didn't hear about the huge removal and repatriation costs over the past three years.

Two companies, Aim Inter-national Moving and Beverly Smyth, each netted more than €1m from transporting the personal effects of diplomats, while five other firms were also paid substantial sums.

In a statement, the department said there were approximately 200 relocations each year, while 60 staff went to Brussels on a short-term basis in 2012 "ensuring Ireland's interests were properly represented at a crucial time in our economic recovery".

Other costs disclosed in the records obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal that €308,000 was paid to the Dublin Airport Authority to provide transfer and airport lounge facilities for high-level delegations, including that of former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

She was in Dublin to attend the OSCE ministerial meeting in December 2012.

The department picked up the tab for the meeting of over 50 foreign ministers, renting the RDS at a cost of €1.9m.

Chauffeur and transport services companies also benefited from the increased international business generated by the EU Presidency and OSCE meeting.

The department has paid six firms more than €653,000 since 2011 to drive foreign and Irish officials, with the vast bulk of this, some €450,000, shelled out last year.

But it insisted that this spending was actually on the low side as most of the EU presidency delegations were moved around by coaches, with individual transport provided only for arrivals and departures from the airport.

Sunday Independent

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