Friday 23 August 2019

Party politics: Varadkar's €400k bill for food, drink and entertainment

Records reveal how the Taoiseach wined and dined world leaders and hosted intimate dinners for ministers, writes Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Justin Trudeau during the Canadian prime minister’s visit to Ireland. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Justin Trudeau during the Canadian prime minister’s visit to Ireland. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has clocked up a €400,000 bill for food, drink and entertainment since he took office two years ago, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

New figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal how the Taoiseach's department spent thousands of euro on lavish dinners for visiting dignitaries accompanied by musical performances by some of Ireland's best known musicians. Mr Varadkar also treats his Cabinet ministers to evening suppers in Farmleigh House, the State's formal residence, and in the National Gallery of Ireland.

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Last September, ministers gathered in Farmleigh House, for an evening of dinner and drinks at a cost of €2,075.

In December 2017, the Taoiseach hosted a Christmas dinner for his ministerial team in the National Gallery of Ireland beside Leinster House which cost €2,102.

More than a quarter of the Taoiseach's entertainment budget was spent on the inauguration of Michael D Higgins as President for a second term.

Mr Higgins came under fire during the Presidential election campaign over the level of spending in Aras an Uachtarain while he was in office but there was no expense spared on his €110,000 inauguration ceremony.

The bill for the extravagant event included €53,994 for ''refreshments'' and an additional €35,125 on food.

Irish soprano Celine Byrne was paid €2,460 to perform at the event in Dublin Castle last November. The internationally acclaimed traditional Irish music group The Gloaming were paid €5,000 to perform for Mr Higgins while Irish folk group Old Hannah received €250 for their performance.

The Taoiseach and Justin Trudeau went for a jog in the Phoenix Park and compared novelty socks when the Canadian prime minister visited Ireland two years ago but the festivities did not end there.

Mr Varadkar hosted a dinner for Mr Trudeau and 150 guests in Dublin Castle which set the taxpayer back €14,150 - this includes a €2,499 bill for ''refreshments/beverages''.

An equally impressive spread was put on for president of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker who was wined and dined in Dublin Castle at a cost of €17,607. The three-course dinner for Mr Juncker and 150 guests cost €10,157. Galway songstress Ceara Conway was paid €700 to perform for Mr Juncker at the event in May 2018.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk clearly did not have time to stay for dinner and instead had a €995 working lunch with the Taoiseach when he visited.

Last April, the Taoiseach hosted Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel in Malahide Castle in north Dublin. Records show drinks for the event cost €1,177, the dinner cost €5,428 and unspecified entertainment cost €265.

The Taoiseach returned to Dublin Castle to host a €13,149 dinner for the recently ousted Austrian prime minister Sebastian Kruz.

The cost of the evening included a €4,332 bill for ''refreshments'' while €7,100 was spent on food and the entertainment cost €1,715. Records do not say how many people attended the dinner.

In May, the Taoiseach hosted a lunch for German chancellor Angela Merkel in Farmleigh House which cost €2,097. Meanwhile, drinks and dinner for former UK prime minister Theresa May cost €3,116.

Former International Monetary Fund managing director and recently appointed European Central Bank governor Christine Lagarde was entertained in the National Gallery at a cost of €1,989.

The Taoiseach had a working dinner with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in Government Buildings which cost €1,413.

An event in Dublin Castle for Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, and 200 guests in April cost €24,839. The Irish choral ensemble Anuna performed on the night for €3,500.

Catering for the visit of Pope Francis cost €3,199 and included a €1,807 bill for tea, coffee, scones and pastries from bespoke caterers Berman and Wallace. Despite the Government and the Pope's commitments to climate action, the Department of the Taoiseach spent €182 on bottled water for the event.

A further €284 was spent on 154 bottles of water for last year's National Day of Commemoration event in Collins Barracks. A marquee reception for a 1,000 guests cost €25,513 and Irish soprano Sandra Oman was paid €500 to perform at the event.

Catering and entertainment for an event in Dublin Castle marking the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality cost €20,443 and included €700 paid to the Dublin Ukulele Collective.

The Taoiseach also hosted a €15,826 reception in the Mansion House in Dublin for the emergency service members who worked during Storms Ophelia and Emma.

Refreshments and canapes for an event celebrating 100 years of women having the right to vote cost €9,988.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach sought to distance Mr Varadkar from his department's spending.

"This expenditure does not represent monies spent by the Taoiseach but rather a wide range of events paid for by his department over more than a two-year period - from large-scale State occasions and hosting incoming heads of state to smaller functions or events held by civil servants on official Government business," she said.

"Organising and hosting such events has been part of the department's remit for many years and can involve catering for hundreds or, in a small number of instances, thousands of guests and expenditure is continually monitored to ensure that value for money is being achieved," she added.

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