John O' Donoghue

A STATE tourism body spent more than €100,000 between 2003 and 2005 sending John O'Donoghue and his wife Kate-Ann abroad – including €138 for a tuxedo, €681 on tickets for the Breeder's Cup, €301 on formal wear and €22,700 on flights to Australia.

Further details of the former Ceann Comhairle's travels have been made available by Tourism Ireland, which show that more than €89,000 was spent by the body on O'Donoghue in just three years.

A further €27,000 was spent on the former minister during a trip to New York with his departmental secretary general Philip Furlong in 2006.

The massive overseas travel expenditure was overseen by Paul O'Toole, the then chief executive of Tourism Ireland, who has since been appointed director general at the beleaguered state agency Fás.

During November 2003, O'Donoghue and his wife headed off to Australia where they attended the Melbourne Cup race meeting, an Ireland rugby match and a compromise rules game.

Flights for their trip, which went via Thailand, cost €14,007 according to the records, with an overnight in Bangkok at the Oriental Hotel costing €417.

From there, the O'Dono­ghues jetted off to Sydney where they spent four nights at the Shangri-La Hotel, which cost €1,412.

While those hotel bills might seem reasonable, the €4,545 spent on a suite for five nights at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne on the next leg of the trip was exorbitant by anybody's standards.

While there, they charged five different meals to the taxpayer, eating out at the Cafe Sydney, Prime restaurant, Yerring Station, Donovan's restaurant and Ondine restaurant.

A night at the opera cost €96 for one ticket for O'Donoghue, while formal wear on another evening cost €138, Tourism Ireland said.

Transport costs on the trip came to more than €1,800 as the then minister attended a number of tourism promotion and media events.

According to the new documents, O'Donoghue's travels with Tourism Ireland began in June and July of 2003 when he and his wife travelled to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

Flights for the country's best-travelled couple came to €9,682 with business-class flights used for the leg between Dublin and LA.

Broadway show

On arrival in Los Angeles, the O'Donoghues stayed at the Beverly Willshire Hotel, which cost €637.56 according to the documents.

The following night, they moved on to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco where their room cost €780 before heading to New York and Fitzpatrick's Hotel where accommodation – including "meals and laundry" – cost €1,659.

While there, the couple enjoyed a Broadway show, with their tickets costing €221.05. They then moved on to dinner at the Harbour Light, which cost €248.78.

Limousine hire on the trip, to transport them to airports in Los Angeles and San Francisco, came to €1,181 while car hire for their four days in New York cost €2,059.49. The total cost of the trip was €16,471 according to Tourism Ireland and was part of a tourism drive timed to coincide with the arrival of the Jeanie Johnston in New York.

In October 2004, O'Dono­ghue headed off again, courtesy of Tourism Ireland, this time for the Breeder's Cup in America. Flights for the minister and his wife cost nearly €10,000 with accommodation for one night at the St Regis Hotel in Houston costing €413.

From there, the O'Dono­ghues moved on to the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas where a three-night stay cost €2,822 according to records.

Two tickets for the Breeder's Cup and a post-race reception cost €681 while car transport on the trip came to nearly €1,000.

In February 2005, the minister travelled to Los Angeles where restaurant bills of €252 were paid for by Tourism Ireland, the remaining costs borne by his department.

Similarly, on a trip to the US in April 2005, most of the bills were paid by the department, with the only costs paid by Tourism Ireland for theatre tickets and car transfers. According to the records, two theatre tickets on consecutive nights cost a total of €482, with a further €1,204 spent on limousine hire.

Two months later, the O'Donoghues headed off to America again, this time to Boston for another tourism promotion event.

Tourism Ireland paid for his hotel, which involved two nights' stay at Jury's Hotel in Boston at a cost of €1,845.

The state agency also picked up the tab for car hire on the three-day trip, which came to €1,013.

In October 2005, O'Dono­ghue headed off to Australia again, where he once again attended the Melbourne Cup race meeting.

This was his most expensive trip of all and came in at a grand total of €30,109.

Flights on the trip cost a massive €22,753 which included a stop-off in Kuala Lumpur on the outbound leg and Singapore on the return.

Four nights at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne cost €2,190 from where the O'Donoghues headed to Sydney and a one-night stay at the Park Hyatt costing €743.

After that, the minister and his wife headed to New Zealand and a three-night stay at the SkyCity Grand Hotel in Auckland which cost €1,776. Hotel meals of €157 were also charged with a bill of €207.94 amassed on room service and dry cleaning.

Four restaurant bills were also paid for by Tourism Ireland, including dining at Whites restaurant at the Hilton, the Shed in Waiheke, and the Soul Bar and Lenin restaurant in Auckland.

A guided tour of Mornington peninsula cost €250 while formal wear for the minister ended up costing the taxpayer €301.

VIP suite hire at Sydney airport was €210 while car transfers came to a total of almost €900, according to the Tourism Ireland records.

GardaÍ withhold travel details

EXACT details of travel expenditure for ministers and the president are being withheld from the public on security grounds.

Gardaí have refused to disclose the cost of providing full-time drivers for serving ministers, the president, former taoisigh and the country's senior law officers.

The Sunday Tribune had sought details on how much it was costing each year to run a ministerial car service and to have trained gardaí at the beck and call of the cabinet.

Aside from their annual salaries, there are also thought to be significant costs in terms of overnight hotel bills, fuel, subsistence and overtime payments.

Salary costs for the service have been conservatively estimated at €2.1m with 73 gardaí tasked full-time with driving the VIPs around Ireland.

Asked about the cost of ministerial car transport, the Garda Press Office said: "We do not comment on issues relating to or connected with the security of members of the Oireachtas."

Questioned further about specific arrangements regarding the use of hotels and B&Bs for gardaí who had to overnight away from their home, gardaí again declined to respond.

They said: "We do not comment on issues relating to or connected with the security of members of the Oireachtas, including the issue of costs."

Attempts by the Sunday Tribune to determine the scale of overseas travel by the president's office have also been met with a blanket refusal.

Details of President McAleese's travel on board the government jet and Air Corps helicopters had been sought under Freedom of Information legislation and through Áras an Uachtaráin.

The president's office is exempt, however, from the Freedom of Information Act and her office does not comment upon her travel arrangements. McAleese announced last week that she was cutting her household allowance by 12.5% and would be prepared to take another pay cut if required.

A number of government ministers have repeatedly said that all of their travel expenditure is available under FOI and was open and transparent.

However, departments are still using other means to massively slow down access to information.