Sunday 17 February 2019

Taxpayers face a bill 'of no more than €20m' for the underwhelming Papal visit

Pope Francis at Knock Shrine. Picture: Maxwells
Pope Francis at Knock Shrine. Picture: Maxwells
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The final cost to the taxpayer of Pope Francis's visit will be "no greater than the €20m budget approved for the visit", according to the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The Dáil's spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), has been told the bulk of the costs of the visit in August were incurred by the OPW and the Garda.

The OPW is responsible for the Phoenix Park, where the Pope said Mass to around 150,000 people rather than the half-million predicted, while the Garda had to dip into its overtime budget to provide security.

Expenditure details are contained in a letter sent to the PAC by Department of Public Expenditure boss Robert Watt.

He says the OPW has advised that spending incurred to date is €14.1m.

He writes that the Department of Justice said Garda costs are in the region of €5.2m with overtime accounting for €4m of this cost.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was asked about pressure on the Garda overtime budget at the Oireachtas justice committee.

He said the budget for overtime has been overspent this year and "corrective action had to be taken".

There are now restrictions on overtime for the rest of 2018, though Mr Harris said it is not an "absolute moratorium".

He said there is around €7.2m available to cover essential areas and for emergencies but the approval of senior management will be required to release the funds.

There is a reduction in the sum allocated to Garda overtime in next year's budget but it will be around €90m. Mr Harris said it has to be managed as overspends "suck money from other projects".

Separately, there have been calls for the Vatican to contribute towards the cost of excavating the remains of hundreds of children buried at the former mother and baby home at Tuam.

Minister Katherine Zappone's Department of Children has estimated that the cost of exhuming the remains from the sewage system near the former Bon Secours-run home is between €6m and €13m. The Bon Secours order has offered €2.5m towards the cost, which Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed in the Dáil is "entirely inadequate".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government had sought a higher contribution but added that the €2.5m "is what is forthcoming". He said the order was under no obligation to make a contribution.

But he added: "I want to make it very clear... that this is not a settlement. This is not an indemnity - it's an initial contribution to the cost."

Irish Independent

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