Friday 24 November 2017

Times have changed as spouses stay home for St Patrick's Day

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

NOT a single junior minister brought their spouse abroad this year on the St Patrick's Day visits – in contrast to the practice when former FF junior minister John McGuinness was in government.

It came after Mr McGuinness said the State had paid for his wife to accompany him on St Patrick's Day trips. He said it was "part of Government policy" because there were social events on St Patrick's Day which the wife of a minister was expected to attend.

"It happens now and it happens in every other St Patrick's Day down through the years," he told RTE's 'Morning Ireland'.

But the six junior ministers who travelled abroad for the St Patrick's Day 'Promote Ireland' programme this year all stated that they had not been accompanied by their wives or husbands.

They included government chief whip Paul Kehoe (Australia), junior minister for transport Alan Kelly (New Jersey), junior minister for small business John Perry (Scotland), junior minister for housing Jan O'Sullivan (Saudi Arabia), junior minister for finance Brian Hayes (Belgium), and junior minister for sport Michael Ring (Italy).

And four cabinet ministers who were accompanied by their spouses during the St Patrick's Day visits covered the cost out of their own pocket.

These included the wives of Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Health Minister James Reilly as well as the husbands of Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

A government source said that the foreign travel guidelines in place since 2009 were being adhered to.

"Keeping costs down is good governance," the source said.

Other ministers did not bring their wives with them at all on their St Patrick's Day trips abroad. These included Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who was in Lebanon and Israel, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, who was in China, Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan, who was in Canada and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, who was in Germany.

When Mr McGuinness was junior minister for trade from 2007 to 2009, civil servants in his department said that the cost of spouses was usually only covered in the case when ministers were on St Patrick's Day visits or informal meetings with other EU ministers.

"These cases, however, have tended to be the exception rather than the rule and usually the travel costs for accompanying spouses are paid personally by the minister," a civil servant in the Department of Enterprise and Trade wrote in 2007.

Government departments confirmed that the foreign travel guidelines were updated in 2009 – after controversy about flights for the wives of senior FAS executives being paid for by the state training agency.

The only spouse who had her costs covered by the taxpayer during this year's St Patrick's Day festival was Taoiseach Enda Kenny's wife Fionnuala, who met Michelle Obama in the White House.

The only costs which were incurred by the State were economy cost flights for her from Washington to Dublin via New York. Mr Kenny continued on in the government jet to the west coast of the US for the remainder of his St Patrick's Day visit.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News