Green Gormley: Where’s my limo?

The Green Party leader took a ferry to Holyhead in an attempt to appear environmentally friendly – but had a Mercedes travel five hours and 300 miles from London to collect him. The car cost the taxpayer £2,200. After the climate change event, Gormley flew home.
Ken Foxe reports
John Gormley: stayed at the Dorchester Hotel in London where accommodation costs for four nights came to stg£1,305

GREEN Party leader John Gormley travelled to Britain by ferry to project an environmentally friendly image but a car was dispatched on a five-hour journey from London to Holyhead to collect him.

The environment minister has also confirmed that he had made use of the by-now notorious ‘airport transfers’, where a car was dispatched from central London to collect politicians and drop them to another terminal at Heathrow Airport at a cost of around €500.

Gormley decided not to fly on an official visit to the United Kingdom where he attended a climate change event at Hay-on-Wye in Herefordshire.

He caught the ferry instead in an attempt to appear more ‘green’ during the official visit in May 2008 during which he met with the Welsh environment minister Jayne Davidson.

However, a Mercedes had been sent from London to collect him in Holyhead, a journey of almost 300 miles, which would have taken at least five hours.

The cost of the car hire, which covered the two-day visit, was in the region of €2,200. For his return to Ireland, it is understood that Gormley travelled by airplane from Cardiff.

On a separate trip to the UK for St Patrick’s Day in March 2008, the minister again declined the use of a plane and he and his family travelled to London by ferry and rail.

However, once they arrived in the British capital, they were again given the use of a chauffeur-driven car for what is understood to have been five days at a cost of stg£2,726.

Gormley stayed at the Dorchester Hotel, where accommodation costs for four nights came to stg£1,305 and he also attended the Ireland versus England rugby game at Twickenham as an official guest.

The minister also said he had used “airport transfers”. However, a statement said that he had not been made aware of the bill involved.

The practice of providing these short hops ended at the beginning of the year on cost grounds, the Sunday Tribune has learned, and alternative arrangements have been made.

The minister’s spokesman said last night that Gormley had not been aware of the costs of car hire and that on the trip to Herefordshire he did not know the Mercedes was coming from London.

A statement said: “Public transport connections between Holyhead and Hay-on-Wye are poor, and car hire on this occasion was unavoidable.

“The car trip from Holyhead was in the region of five hours. Travelling to any airport in the region would also have necessitated car hire as there was no airport on a direct public transport link.

“The transport involved was a diesel people-carrier and the party included the minister and three other people. Transport was arranged via the Irish embassy in London.

“Most importantly, at the time the minister was unaware of the cost; he did not know a car was being provided from London and has since required that new arrangements for car hire have been implemented for any official travel.”

Gormley said the Dorchester Hotel had been booked on behalf of him and his wife at a cost of stg£326.50 each night but that accommodation arrangements for the rest of his family had been paid for by himself.

A statement said: “The trip related to the minister representing Ireland for St Patrick’s Day celebrations in London. He also took the opportunity of attending a conference on zero carbon housing on the Friday. The reason for booking the Dorchester was because the London mayor’s ball was in that location.”

“The cost of the car was a total of stg£2,276. Again, the minister was unaware of the arrangements of a car being on call and had stated his preference for public transport and taxis.

“The arrangements were made by the embassy. When he was made aware of the costs he requested new arrangements be put in place whereby car hire is used only where there are no other viable alternatives. For example, at last December’s climate change talks in Poznan, the minister used only taxis and public trams.”

‘Running sore’

The Green Party leader said early last week that the expenses issue was a “running sore” for the body politic and has called for major reform of the system.

The Sunday Tribune has also obtained details of Gormley’s domestic expense claims whilst a minister at the Department of the Environment in 2008 and as a TD in 2006.

In November 2008, Gormley claimed back €12,638 for some research he had conducted in his Dublin South East constituency with Red C, as part of his special secretarial allowance.

It is understood that this research related to attitudes to the Green Party and was entitled ‘Party Review Qualitative Research October 2008’.

Gormley’s spokesman said: “This research was on political attitudes in Dublin South East to assist the minister in policy formulation. This expenditure is permissible under the expenditure guidelines and fully receipted.”

In the same year, the minister also claimed €8,796 for a redesign of his website, with a further €169.40 spent on maintenance and registration.

Printing of leaflets cost more than €6,500 while distributing the 40,000 flyers around Dublin as part of a “constituency campaign” cost the taxpayer more than €4,500.

The Green Party leader had already spent €217.80 advertising in a Polish newspaper looking for people to deliver the leaflets.

Other claims made by Gormley include €2,222.04 for maintaining accommodation for his secretarial assistant at Fownes Street in Temple Bar.

In 2006, the last full year for which the Green Party leader was in opposition, Gormley claimed €14,336 in a daily travel allowance, despite living just a couple of miles from the Dáil and cycling to work almost every day.

For the entire year, Gormley was paid €37,800 in unvouched and untaxed expenses on top of his already healthy salary of more than €100,000. To start with, the Green TD was paid €8,227, which came in the form of 12 monthly payments of €685.

On top of that, the Green TD appears to have claimed for attendance at the Dáil on 188 occasions although two sets of official documents seem to contradict each other.

Gormley also travelled to New York during the year an Aids conference as part of committee work and was issued with a float of €903 to cover the costs of the trip.

It subsequently emerged that the embassy in the United States had paid for his accommodation and they reclaimed €532 from him.

A letter from the Committees Travel Section said: “You were issued with an imprest [an advance] of €903, which was calculated on the basis of accommodation costs and subsistence due to you for the trip.

“However, as the embassy paid for your accommodation and part of your trip related to private travel your imprest exceeded your expenses claim by €532.40.”

According to the documents, Gormley made a final claim of €4,444 in a constituency office maintenance allowance for the premises at Fownes Street.

The minister’s spokesman said Gormley had specifically made his expense claims more transparent by stating exactly what expenditure he had incurred rather than using the “unvouched” system which most Oireachtas members use.

He also reiterated Gormley’s call last week for a major overhaul of expenses, particularly with regards to expenditure not backed by receipts.

October 11, 2009