TDs fork out €12,000 on fine porcelain imported from UAE
Taxpayers have forked out close to €20,000 so that TDs and senators can dine in the lap of luxury on specially commissioned cutlery and crockery that was imported from the Persian Gulf, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Since last year, diners at the exclusive Members Dining Room at Leinster House have been feasting on fine white and red porcelain embossed with the State emblem and Houses of the Oireachtas logo. The crockery was manufactured in the United Arab Emirates.
The luxury diningroom's presses are groaning under the weight of 670 plates of various sizes, which cost €12,200, to serve a capacity of 120 guests at one sitting - roughly four plates per diner.
The TDs and Senators can sample such fare as ricotta and spinach tortellini with oregano and basil pomodora (tomato sauce) or cod and salmon with a red pepper soubise (onion sauce). They can finish off their sumptuous, taxpayer-subsidised meals with a selection of fine desserts like shortbread and strawberries served on a bed of rose petals - which featured on last Valentine's Day menu - washed down with hand-roasted coffee or tea served out of one of 205 specially commissioned cups and saucers.
Taxpayers also coughed up approximately €4,200 for 180 stainless steel knives and forks, 360 dessert knives and forks and an assortment of soup, dessert and teaspoons. An unspecified amount was also spent on adorning each place setting with a paper napkin also embossed with the Houses of the Oireachtas logo, perhaps to remind diners where they are once the plates have been cleared - in case they have sampled too much of the Houses of Oireachtas own brand of wine.
The restaurant's suppliers introduced new labels on its Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc house wine last Christmas bearing the Houses of the Oireachtas label.
According to an Oireachtas spokesperson, the crockery was requisitioned in 2014 due to "a shortage of the china previously in place which was in use for more than 10-15 years at that stage."
The requisition was put out to tender and Dublin-based supplier Kendermar Distributors won the successful tender out of two other bids.
But the company's owner declined comment on why it supplied the State parliament with crockery made by RAK Porcelain which is made in Ras al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates instead of an indigenous Irish company. "I am not in a position to discuss my clients with a newspaper," he told the Sunday Independent. An Oireachtas spokesperson also refused to say why an Irish manufacturer was not awarded the tender.
But Maria Hoystead, owner of Shannonbridge Pottery based in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, said her family-run business designs and manufactures pottery and ceramics for well-known Irish companies like Avoca, Kilkenny and Shaw's. She said "it would have been nice if small manufacturers like us could have participated, especially during the recession.
"It would have been great to participate in the tender but we never heard about it," she told the Sunday Independent.
The dining room, which is off limits to the public, made headlines last Valentine's Day when it emerged that loved-up TDs, senators and their other halves could treat themselves to a romantic four-course meal for a reasonable €25 per person, with a glass of Prosecco costing an additional €5.
Using such tantalising headings as "A Quick Embrace," for the starter, "The Proposal" for the main event and "Sealed with a Kiss" for dessert, they were treated to Dublin Bay prawn bisque, grilled rib eye steak and passion fruit mousse, among other delights.
The "ladies" were also given free roses and chocolate truffles on arrival.
While the food on offer was no doubt locally sourced, the decision to use porcelain from the UAE is not the first time that the use of imports in the hallowed State dining-room has caused a storm.
Almost 40 years ago, the then Finance Minister was taken to task during Question Time in February 1976 for using imported wallpaper to decorate the former Parliamentary Secretaries' dining -room instead of wallpaper made in Ireland, following a recent furore over "State- sponsored bodies going outside the country for supplies" at a time of mass unemployment.
Asked why this was the case, the then minister's Parliamentary Secretary Michael Begley (FG) replied that the room in question, used to entertain visiting dignitaries and representatives of the EEC, could get quite noisy and that "after careful consideration a linen bonded fabric wallcovering" that is not manufactured in Ireland was chosen.
But he refused to call it "a disgrace."