IT was billed as a cut-price St Patrick's Day abroad but government ministers still spent tens of thousands of euro on a lavish trip to the US in March.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen and foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin together clocked up €30,532 in expenses on a whirlwind tour of New York and Washington which lasted just five days.
The costs included rooms in luxury hotels, nearly €10,000 on limousines, suit and photographer hire and domestic flights. The cost does not take into account the cost of travelling on the government jet.
Prior to the trip last March, the Department of the Taoiseach released a statement saying it had "instructed all departments to ensure that costs are kept to a minimum. The total cost will be considerably less than in previous years," it said.
As part of that effort, the number of ministers travelling abroad had been reduced by half, with Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and several other cabinet ministers instructed to remain in the country.
The release came on foot of pressure over government spending due to the economic and budgetary crisis.
"I know that some people question the value of these trips, particularly during this severe economic downturn, but St Patrick's Day gives Ireland a global platform that is the envy of practically every country in the world," the Taoiseach said at the time.
As part of their trip, the Taoiseach, the minister and their entourage spent nearly €13,000 on top hotels: the Manhattan Fitzpatrick in New York and the Regis in Washington.
The Taoiseach's party hired six rooms in each hotel, although the foreign-affairs delegation number is not clear.
The Taoiseach's department spent nearly €10,000 on limousine hire while the Department of Foreign Affairs spent €2,020 on "car hire".
Over €2,000 was spent on photographers, subsistence and gifts.
Reacting to the spending, Fine Gael's spokesman on foreign affairs, Billy Timmins, said: "In principle I support the concept of Irish representatives going abroad on St Patrick's Day to promote the country. However, I do think that on the face of it this is an exorbitant amount of money to spend on support for the trip."
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