Health minister Mary Harney: was abroad on 15 occasions between 2006 and 2008 and used the government on almost every ocassion costing the taxpayer €735,000

HEALTH minister Mary Harney and her husband Brian Geoghegan ran up a bill of nearly €65,000 in hotels, limousine hire and accommodation in the space of just three years.

That figure does not include the massive bill for the government jet, which Harney used on almost every occasion she travelled abroad and which cost the taxpayer more than €735,000.

Harney was abroad on 15 occasions between 2006 and 2008 on official business with her department, according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act.

In February of 2008, the health minister travelled to the USA on an official visit with her husband and six civil servants and advisers, where she controversially attended the Super Bowl.

Car hire on the trip cost €10,208 while accommodation for the minister and her husband cost €2,285. Details of where they stayed have not been provided in a heavily redacted and delayed release by the Department of Health.

Other claims on the trip include €541 in restaurant bills and subsistence claims for €772. The total bill for the government jet has been estimated at €163,600 and there is no mention of the trip to the Super Bowl in Arizona in an official itinerary of the trip.

The Sunday on which she went to the game is simply listed as a "private day" and Harney said she had been an invited guest of Science Foundation Arizona president William Harris, who had previously been the head of Science Foundation Ireland.

In June of 2008, Harney – with her husband – and a small coterie of advisers went to Tallinn for a World Health Organisation ministerial conference.

They again travelled by government jet and accommodation costs for the minister are listed as €740, with a further €126 paid out in subsistence payments.

In 2006, Harney and her husband travelled to the United States on three separate occasions to visit hospitals and other healthcare services.

In February 2006, they flew to Canada by government jet where they ran up a car hire bill of €6,889, accommodation costs of €1,542 and claimed back subsistence of €486. They were accompanied by a number of civil servants and advisors and a reporting crew from RTÉ.

According to a list of official events, the trip, which involved stops in Toronto and Vancouver, was for an "analysis of cancer control governance models".

In May of that year, Harney and Geoghegan again jetted off to America on the €7,100-an-hour Gulfstream IV, where their car hire bill came to a massive €14,351.

Accommodation costs for the trip for six people do not appear to have been provided in full by the department and are listed as having cost €745 with a further €835 claimed in subsistence by Harney.

This time, the trip again related to cancer services including a conference in Philadelphia and a hospital visit in the US capital Washington DC.

By October, the couple was off again, this time to Chicago to visit a children's memorial hospital there. Car hire on that trip cost €2,979 with accommodation costs coming in at €1,400.

This time, Harney and her husband travelled by commercial airline and a club travel bill of €3,138 – presumably for flights – is listed by the Department of Health.

For St Patrick's Day, Harney and her husband represented Ireland three years in a row.

In 2008, they travelled to Prague by government jet and hired cars costing €1,136. Accommodation costs on the trip were €921, restaurant bills €263 and subsistence paid out came to €618. Other costs include €115 in miscellaneous expenditure but it is impossible to determine what this entailed as the Department of Health have provided as little detail as possible.

In 2007, Harney, her husband and three advisers went to Stockholm in Sweden for St Patrick's Day by government jet and stayed for five days. The only cost listed for the trip is €922 and who paid for hotel costs, dinners and car hire is a mystery – again, no detail has been provided.

The previous year, the couple had travelled to Bahrain for St Patrick's Day festivities and got there by commercial airliner with their flights costing €3,732 in total. Once again, no details of who paid for their accommodation or car hire are provided and the only claim from the trip is one of €1,351 for subsistence.

Harney also travelled abroad on seven different occasions for EU business, with her husband Brian Geoghegan accompanying her on two of those trips.

Government jet

On all but one of these journeys, she travelled by government jet, although flight costs for a trip to Milan at which she was a speaker at "Observatory on Europe" have not been provided.

Accommodation costs have been provided in only two instances and the largest bills tended to be for car hire, €2,096 in Luxembourg and €1,591 in Brussels.

Some details of expenditure on a departmental credit card have also been provided, which show Harney once spent €873.20 on an official dinner during her St Patrick's Day trip to Scandinavia in 2007.

Other transactions on that credit card include a €290 payment for a room at Hotel le Royal in Luxembourg and €456 for a dinner with the delegation while there.

According to documents made available by the Department of Health, Harney also travelled abroad 10 times during 2004 and 2005. However, many of those trips were short hops to the UK or Brussels.

Harney may also have travelled abroad on other occasions courtesy of semi-state bodies and other agencies.

She was one of six government ministers who travelled to Florida with Fás as part of the now-scrapped Science Challenge Programme.

On that trip in July 2004, while she was minister for enterprise, Harney travelled with her husband and enjoyed five-star accommodation and a single meal which cost nearly $1,000.

Where the minister travelled

* Non-EU
June 26 2008: Tallinn, government jet.
Feb 1 2008: Arizona & Houston, government jet.
October 27 2006: Chicago, commercial flights.
May 5 2006: Washington DC & Philadelphia, government jet.
Feb 2 2006: Vancouver & Toronto, government jet.

* St Patrick's Day
March 2008: Prague, government jet.
March 2007: Stockholm, government jet.
March 2006: Bahrain, commercial flight.

* EU
September 8 2008: Paris, government jet.
June 9 2008: Luxembourg, government jet
April 17 2008: Slovenia, government jet.
February 8 2007: Milan, commercial flights.
November 29 2006: Brussels, government jet.
April 25 2006: Vienna, government jet.
February 23 2006: Vienna, government jet.
Gulfstream IV, used primarily for non-EU travel: €7,100 an hour.
Learjet, used primarily for EU travel: €2,100 per hour.

Total estimated cost: €735,000