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Lenihan keeps Paddy's Day expense to f4k

FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan appears to be living by his penny-pinching mantra by spending just €4,000 on his department's St Patrick's Day jollies.

The bill is in stark contrast with some of the expenditure run up by his Cabinet colleagues, including Brian Cowen.

The Taoiseach's annual call to the White House cost the cash-strapped Exchequer €180,000, while other high-fliers like Health Minister Mary Harney and Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe spent €34,000 and €30,000 on trips to New Zealand, and Japan and Korea, respectively.

However, the Herald can now reveal that Mr Lenihan was keeping a much closer eye on the purse strings, allowing his junior minster just €4,192 for a four-day trip to the Netherlands and Belgium.

Mr Lenihan, who is suffering from pancreatic cancer, decided not to travel this year, but instead allowed Minister of State Martin Manseragh to represent his offices.

Mr Manseragh and his two civil servants left Ireland on March 15 and returned the day after St Patrick's Day on flights that cost a total of €735.

In reply to a parliamentary question, Mr Lenihan explained that the TD "was accompanied by his Private Secretary for all of his trip and by the Chief Engineer at the Office of Public Works for the trip to the Netherlands in relation to flood management and defences".

The hotel bill for Belgium was €430 but rose to €1,902 for The Netherlands.

The minister handed over €256 worth of "official gifts" to his hosts, while also claiming a subsistence rate of €227.

Other costs included trains, trams and taxis abroad to the value of €144 and transport, car parking and tolls worth €237 in Ireland.

Prior to annual St Patrick's Day exodus, Mr Cowen warned all Government departments that there was no budget for "first-class flights, limousines, hotel suites and VIP lounges" unless they can find a "compelling reason" to justify them.

Senior and junior ministers touched down in 23 countries including the US, Britain, Canada and Australia and new markets including China, Russia and India.

However, the overall bill still ran into the hundreds of thousands, with the Taoiseach himself proving the most expensive.

His trip to Chicago, the Silicon Valley and Washington cost in excess of €180,000, mainly due to his use of the expensive Government jet.

Amazingly though, officials also reserved seats on a commercial flight as a back-up, landing taxpayers with an unnecessary bill of €1,013.