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Paddy's Day globetrotters to leave Gormley at home

THE ministers in green are off again to take on the globe for St Patrick's Day -- but without Green-in-chief John Gormley.

The embattled Green Party leader is the only Cabinet minister not taking to the skies this March 17, with the exceptions of Martin Cullen and Brian Lenihan, who are both ill.

While his colleagues will be taking whirlwind trips to Europe, America, Asia and Australia, Mr Gormley will be left manning the St Patrick's Day fort that was once the responsibility of Willie O'Dea.

However, Taoiseach Brian Cowen has warned that his travelling squad of 23 that this year will be a no-frills recession mission.

After years of having taxpayers fork out hundreds of thousands of euro on the annual junket, Mr Cowen has instructed all Government departments that there is no budget for "first-class flights, limousines, hotel suites and VIP lounges" unless they can find a "compelling reason" to justify them.

The Cabinet will be flying the flag in 23 countries while simultaneously trying to lure jobs to Ireland, the Government announced yesterday. The destinations include countries that have already welcomed tens of thousands of Irish workers since the beginning of the downturn -- the US, Britain, Canada and Australia.

There will also be a focus on new markets that could prove trading partners in the future, including China, Russia and India.

As usual, Mr Cowen is Washington-bound where he will meet with an all-star line-up including President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Overall, 22 ministers (including Mr Cowen) and the Attorney General will take flight, compared with 17 last year.

The final cost of the trips will not be known for several months but it is likely to be well in excess of €250,000.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin will travel to the Silicon Valley in California, while Transport Minister Noel Dempsey is going to Atlanta.

Health Minister Mary Harney is visiting New Zealand and Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe is off to Japan and South Korea.