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The President, the politicians, the Pope's funeral and the €21,000 5-star hotel bill

THE great and good of world politics were there but it's unlikely that many of them enjoyed the luxury we unwittingly afforded President Mary McAleese, Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, leaders from across the globe descended on Rome for a funeral that was watched by millions on television.

As a shot of Mrs McAleese alongside the likes George W Bush, Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac, Prince Charles and others flashed across the screen, it brought some pride to know that we were be amply represented.

But what the taxpayers didn't know was that behind Mrs McAleese was a small army of civil servants and a hotel bill that must be making her wince in this new economic climate.

Copies of the mammoth invoice from the Grand Hotel De La Minerve show that officials queried the room costs which totalled over €21,000 -- but it appears they ended up paying the full bill.

No less than nine question marks are scribbled beside figures on the invoice which range from €740 for the cheapest room to €3,198 for the suite where the president and her husband Dr Martin McAleese stayed.



Multiples

The documents, published in a new book by journalist Ken Foxe, suggest that the officials felt they were being overcharged by as much as €680.

However, taxpayers will no doubt feel that there are out of pocket by many multiples of that figure. It wasn't just the president who was staying in extreme luxury though, as then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and ex-Tanaiste Mary Harney got in on the act. And almost as a convenient way of ensuring that nobody complained, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was invited along for the sombre jaunt.

Mr Ahern enjoyed a junior suite that cost €1,650, while Ms Harney and Mr Kenny were put up in deluxe rooms for €1,200 each. But while astonishing spends on politician junkets is something an increasing cynical public has come to expect, this party brought along a host of staff including spokespersons and secretaries.

Enda Kenny has some serious self-reflection to undertake following this scandal.

He was the man that the country was depending on to shout stop when the Government was losing control.

So while the public will rightly feel aggrieved at the Government's waste of taxpayers' funds, they must also feel failed by the opposition leader.

When pressed on the issue, Mr Kenny's spokesperson said: "He had no involvement in any of the arrangements in relation to the visit."

But isn't that the same excuse that has always been trotted out by ministers when their junkets are questioned?

He should have known something was amiss when Mary Harney didn't disembark the Government jet at Baldonnel on their return.

Instead Ms Harney took to the skies again and used the taxpayer-funded plane to go to Cork where the Progressive Democrats party conference was taking place.

The jet is only supposed to be used for State business but with Mr Kenny tied up in the debacle it seems the Health Minister has no qualms about using it for PD work.

And that leaves Mrs McAleese, whom we suspect has enjoyed the inside of more five-star hotels than Mariah Carey.

As the head of State, Mrs McAleese is entirely exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, which journalists have used to expose the lavish jet-set lifestyles of people like former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue.

But at the same time the president is the biggest jet-setter of all. She regularly takes off around the world to fly the Irish flag and few would argue against that necessity.

However, the lack of transparency around her trips is bizarre given that ordinary taxpayers are footing the bill.

Conveniently, Aras an Uachtarain does not discuss anything in relation to overseas travel by the president.

The €740 that was spent on a bedroom in Rome for her spokesperson was money well spent then.

Incidentally, the Grand Hotel De La Minerve appears to have prepared for its Irish delegation with prices at rates that should have shocked in the 'Rip Off Republic'.



Superior

The suite, for which Mrs McAleese was charged more than €3,100, is available today at a cost of just €890. The suites occupied by Ahern, Harney and Kenny are apparently down from €1,200 to €530.

And the superior rooms that were provided for civil servants and advisors at a cost of over €700 are now half price.

The trip to Rome should come as an expensive lesson to all travelling politicians that they need to check our receipt.

Snouts in The Trough by Ken Foxe is published by Gill & Macmillan


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