John O'Donoghue: seven-day odyssey in UK

Former Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism John O'Donoghue hired a chauffeur to ferry him around Cheltenham for five days at a cost to the taxpayer of €1,400 per day, the Sunday Tribune can reveal.

In March 2007, O'Donoghue hired a driver from a London firm to pick him up from Manchester airport before embarking on the 110-mile journey to Cheltenham.

For the next five days, the driver was on 24-hour call while the minister and his wife Kate Ann attended the famous race meeting.

The cost of car hire for the five days was €6,994.36. During O'Donoghue's stay at the races, he attended the Royal Box, had dinner with tycoon JP McManus and enjoyed afternoon tea in a private box.

No officials from his department attended the race meeting and a spokeswoman said that he went to Cheltenham "in the context of his mandate as minister with responsibility for the horseracing industry and not in his private capacity".

After five days, O'Donoghue left Cheltenham and travelled to London where he attended the St Patrick's Day parade. Car hire and a driver for the two days in the English capital cost €1,848.88.

The total amount paid to "T Gallagher Car hire, London" was €8,843.24, or €1,265.32 for each day that he was in the UK.

The total cost of the seven-day odyssey was €14,350.74, with accommodation costing €1,755 and flight costs amounting to €1,092.

John O'Donoghue has again refused to comment on the latest revelations about his lavish lifestyle. In recent weeks, this newspaper revealed that O'Donoghue, his wife and private secretary ran up a bill of €126,000 on foreign trips in just two years.

He also used the government jet for six consecutive days during a trip to the Cannes film festival and the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff at a cost of €32,450. Returning to Kerry in the government jet to attend a private constituency event cost the taxpayer €11,300.

Commenting on the €8,843.24 spent on car hire in the UK, a spokeswoman for the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism said: "As per usual procedures when ministers are overseas on official business, the department was invoiced for the car hire for the period in question, in this case for use of the car and driver for the seven-day period from 12 March to 18 March which included the minister's St Patrick's Day programme, as well as attendance at Cheltenham in the context of his mandate as minister with responsibility for the horseracing industry."

Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh said: "This is a ridiculous expense. If he wanted to go off to Cheltenham like that it should have been at his own expense. The taxpayer should not be paying for the sporting or gambling pursuits of any politician.

"This just reaffirms the need for a system where all expenses and travel costs associated with ministers should be published annually."

O'Donoghue's itinerary for the Cheltenham race meeting was not very hectic. He arrived in Cheltenham late on Monday 12 March and had no engagements.

On the Tuesday, he spoke at the 'Irish Racing focus' press conference. He then proceeded to the winners' enclosure where President Mary McAleese presented a trophy.

He followed that with a 'meet and greet' with Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) staff before dinner with JP McManus in the Liggan Arms.

The following day he attended a lunch and afternoon tea courtesy of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing before dinner in Parkers Brasserie as a guest of the chairman of HRI.

On Thursday he had lunch courtesy of Tourism Ireland and had an open invitation from Irish businessman Conor Clarkson to call into his private box.

His schedule lists a "possible meeting" with British sports minister Richard Caybourn before dinner in Calcot Manor courtesy of Tourism Ireland.

His sole engagement on Friday was a visit with Kate Ann to the Royal Box to view the racing before checking out and heading to London where he attended the black-tie St Patrick's Day festival dinner thrown by the lord mayor of London.

After attending the St Patrick's Day parade on Sunday 18 March he flew to Dublin where he officiated at the Sky Fest fireworks event.