Shop around has long been the advice from government ministers and consumer agencies to cash-strapped shoppers – but what if cabinet members practiced what they preached?
The answer is that the Irish taxpayer would have forked out thousands of euros less on ministerial expenses, such as those of Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue during his reign as minister for arts, sport and tourism. A modicum of research and a willingness to haggle could have reduced his enormous bills.
For example, O’Donoghue racked up a massive €8,439 on car hire on a plush trip to Cannes, but local car-rental firm Avis verified that a Mercedes E Class could have been hired for no more than €1,055 for these four nights.
On the same trip, during which O’Donoghue was accompanied by wife Kate Ann and private secretary Therese O’Connor, the trio spent four days at the Montfleury Hotel paying an average €990 per night.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune about its best summer rates, a spokesman for the hotel said two of its ‘standard rooms’, which lead onto a garden and pool, were available for €280 per night – which could have shaved €710 off the sky-high bill. Overall, around €9,100 could have been stripped off the cost of this single sojourn.
Another trip to New York by this party of three cost €14,000. The O’Donoghue entourage stayed in the world-famous Waldorf Astoria for $1,200 a night.
The Waldorf Astoria, when asked about its best rates, said it could offer two deluxe bedrooms (with a spacious 230sq ft per room) at $600 per night – a 50% saving.
A spokesman said these kind of bargains would have been available to O’Donoghue on his trip. Furthermore, a staggering $5,306 was spent on business-class flights to Newark airport. Had O’Donoghue and his consorts opted instead for an economy flight with either Continental Airways or Aer Lingus, the fee for the three would have cost a maximum of $2,600.
During his time as minister for arts, sport and tourism, O’Donoghue attended various celebrations and events across three continents. One of the most lavish trips saw the group head to Venice. There, they stayed in three of the most exclusive and elite hotels: the Albergo San Marco, the Hotel Cipriani and the San Clemente Palace. The bill for these three came to €5,834.
Had the group stayed only in the Albergo San Marco, the cost would have dropped to €1,200.
Had they stuck to the San Clemente Hotel for the four days and availed of the hotel’s best offers, the bill would not have topped €1,600.
Finally, if O’Donoghue and co had stayed in the Hotel Cipriani for four days the receipt would have come in at €2,800.
Also included in the expenses list for the trip to Venice were charges for €250 on two water-taxi journeys to and from the airport for the Venice Biennale architecture exhibition. Venetian public-transport system Vaperetto operates a route from the airport straight to the Biennale Gardens for a mere €6.50 for an hourly (one-trip) ticket. Water taxis are known to be the most expensive form of transport in the area.
Another foray saw the O’Donoghues and Therese O’Connor jet into London for St Patrick’s Day in 2007 to the tune of €14,350. While they were there they notched up expenses of €8,836 for limousine hire alone. UK-based company London Chauffeur Executive offers the use of a Mercedes E Class for €850 for the day or a Bentley for €2,800.