Rody?Molloy, the former boss of Fás, was forced to tender his resignation last week

Mary Harney and her husband Brian Geoghegan enjoyed a $994 meal on a two-day stay at one of America's finest hotels on a controversial visit to the United States. The then tánaiste was one of six government ministers, along with the President of Ireland, who attended junkets and events as part of the controversial Science Challenge programme organised by Fás.

It has also emerged that Harney spent close to a week in Florida courtesy of the taxpayer, staying at two luxury hotels.

Apart from the $410 haircut and blow-dry, which caused major embarrassment last week, Harney, her husband and their entourage also ran up a bill of more than $4,500 at a luxury hotel.

It included the $994 dinner bill along with a $300 drinks tab in a single night whilst entertaining Fás director general Rody Molloy and his wife, amongst others.

Harney and her husband, along with civil servants and representatives of Fás, were flown by government jet to Melbourne Airport in Florida at an estimated cost of €90,000.

Despite having her every whim catered to on her week away, Harney still found time to claim over $100 in subsistence for each day of her travels.

The total cost of the week-long trip may have been as high as €150,000 when all bills, including accommodation, food and travel, are taken into account.

As Rody Molloy was forced to tender his resignation last week, it was clear the Science Challenge programme had the full support of the cabinet and the tánaiste.

Although the two government departments involved have refused to comment, the Sunday Tribune can confirm that at least six ministers attached to those departments attended events in either Florida or in Houston, Texas.

President Mary McAleese and Paddy Duffy, a close friend of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, also went to the United States as guests of Fás.

If Taoiseach Brian Cowen's criticisms of the goings-on in the state training agency seemed muted last week, it might have been because they had the implicit approval of a succession of government ministers.

First to travel was then tánaiste and enterprise minister Mary Harney, who visited Florida with her husband in July of 2004.

Harney spent three days at the luxury Radisson Resort at Cape Canaveral in Florida. She then travelled on to St Augustine, an upmarket resort in Florida, where she stayed another two nights.

The following year, in July, the then enterprise minister Micheál Martin also travelled to the east coast of the US, where he lauded the Science Challenge programme.

Costs for his trip are not available and the department said: "This query should be directed to Fás who organised events in relation to this programme."

Hotel bill of $700 for three nights

In August 2005, education minister Mary Hanafin travelled to Florida with Fás and her hotel bill was in the region of $700. She stayed three nights at the Radisson Resort in Cape Canaveral where the room rate at the time was $149.

In October 2005, education minister Noel Dempsey, his junior minister Tony Killeen, and Paddy Duffy all travelled to Houston, Texas, on another of Fás's expensive outings.

Details of Duffy's hotel show a bill of $588 for three nights at the Marriott Hotel in the Houston Medical Centre.

Costs relating to the two ministers are not available and a department spokesman refused to comment, saying: "The request for information you have sought is more appropriate to Freedom of Information."

In April 2006, minister Michael Ahern travelled to Houston, where he gave another speech extolling the virtues of the Science Challenge programme. Costs for his trip have not been made available either, despite being sought by the Sunday Tribune.

Last year, President Mary McAleese became the final dignitary to pay her respects to the Science Challenge programme when she attended a function in New York.

McAleese and her husband Martin were supporters of the project, not least because their daughter Emma had taken part in the programme after finishing her degree in engineering.

Further details of the extravagant spending by Fás bosses have also emerged in documents obtained by the Sunday Tribune from disgruntled sources in the training organisation.

$994 for a single meal

A single meal charged to the room of Mary Harney and her husband cost $994 in July 2004. They were staying at the $369-a-night Casa Monica Hotel and dined at the swish 95 Cordova restaurant, one of the most expensive in Florida. They also amassed a $300 bar bill in a single night at the restaurant.

It's believed that Harney dined with her husband, the former Fás director general Rody Molloy, his wife Patricia, and senior civil servant Paul Haran.

During their stay at the Casa Monica Hotel in St Augustine, the tánaiste and her entourage racked up a total bill of $4,500.

They enjoyed close to two days of "private time" there, according to an official itinerary provided by the Department of Enterprise.

Harney subsequently claimed subsistence expenses totalling around $500 for the trip. Her husband, despite being entitled to them, did not make any claim.

A spokesman for Harney said: "Fás had been asking for a minister to travel to Florida as part of this programme for close to two years. They were very keen for the tánaiste to travel and she did so. She travelled as the tánaiste and of course as the minister for enterprise, trade and employment.

"They took care of all of the arrangements and in terms of the payment for this entire trip, it would have been a matter for Fás. They made all of the decisions and they decided how it would be paid. The responsibility in relation to how that organisation worked was with the director general."

The most expensive flight in the Fás records is listed as having cost €12,021 and involved a round-the-world trip for assistant director general Gerry Pyke and his wife Sheila.

They travelled business class from Dublin to Frankfurt, then to Tokyo for official business and then on to Honolulu in Hawaii for a personal holiday.

$11,549 for a round-the-world trip

Tom Brazil of Atlas Travel wrote in a letter to Fás: "The first-class applicable fare on the star alliance round the world fare is €11,549. The fare used was €5,669 per person."

Gerry Pyke told the Sunday Tribune: "As Mr Molloy explained in his radio interview, it is possible to trade tickets and I took advantage of that. I was on official business and at no extra cost travelled onwards to the United States.

"There was no additional cost to Fás in returning to Ireland in this way. All of the costs in relation to the United States were at my expense and all costs outside of Japan were met by myself. I was on annual leave at the time."

On another Fás visit to the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando in January 2005, the room rate was a staggering $695 a night. Those staying there, including the now retired Gerry Pyke, charged films and games to their room bill at €14.90 per item.

Ironically, when Mary Harney went to Orlando, the booking habits of Fás became far more frugal, with the room rate at the Radisson Resort where she stayed only $149 a night.

Three rounds of golf for $540

Further details of the controversial $979 golf round have also emerged in the documents.

Rody Molloy signed off on three rounds of golf at a cost of $540, rented three sets of shoes for $45 and three sets of clubs for $180. It also appears that two Footjoy items were purchased at a cost of $60 and Molloy threw in a $36 dry cleaning bill for good measure.

Fás also approved spending of more than €13,000 on official transport in the space of a week for the visit of Commander Eileen Collins, a retired astronaut who visited Ireland in June 2006.

Travel costs of more than €1,000 were mounted up each day, according to invoices submitted by Michael Lawler's company, Pro Drive Ireland. Lawler did not comment when contacted by the Sunday Tribune.

On one journey, the director of corporate affairs, Greg Craig, was driven from his home in Terenure to Kildare Street via St Joseph's School at a cost of €240, receipts stated.

In other documents, the purchase of expensive items is outlined, including spending of €1,109 on jewellery at a shop called Stones & Settings in Ayr, Scotland.

That gift is included on the credit card of corporate affairs manager Seán Connolly, followed six days later by a €1,250 meal at the Orchid Szechuan restaurant in Dublin's Ballsbridge.

A series of expensive flights is also outlined in the documents. On one trip to Florida last year, Fás booked half a dozen flights, which cost in excess of €7,000.

A flight from Dublin to Orlando via England and including a night's stay at the Radisson in Manchester was booked for Owen Wills, leader of the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union.

Wills, who served as a trade union representative on the Fás board, then stayed at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando at a cost of €3,151.

He travelled with Greg Pyke, Tom Nolan, another board member, and Peter McLoone, the Fás chairman, whose first-class flights via Manchester to Orlando each cost €7,272.

John Cahill, who was head of the Science Challenge programme, also ran up considerable credit card bills and was responsible for buying gifts, records show.

He purchased €474 of products at the duty free in Dublin airport, €147 of items at British Isles Inc in Houston and a €100 bag at Macy's to carry around the presents.