Show me the money: travel bill of at least €350,000 was incurred by John O'Donoghue and his wife in three-and-a-half years

CEANN Comhairle John O'Donoghue ran up a bill in excess of €550,000 in lavish expenses during the five-year period he served as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism from 2002 to 2007.

An astonishing travel bill of at least €350,000 was incurred by O'Donoghue and his wife Kate-Ann during his first three-and-a-half years in office, new figures obtained under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act show.

These figures are on top of the €126,000 in expenses incurred by O'Donoghue, his wife and officials on travel in 2006 and 2007, plus a further €75,000 cost in using the government jet.

It brings the former Minister's total of known expenses during his five years as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to a staggering €554,000. This does not include flights and hotels paid for by other state agencies.

Flights costing €9,000 each and limousine bills of more than €12,000 were all charged to the taxpayer whilst the former minister was in office between June 2002 and the end of 2005.

Close to €175,000 was spent on first-class and business-class flights, five-star hotels, and chauffeur-driven limousines according to new details of expenditure revealed to the Sunday Tribune.

A further €178,000 was spent on government jet travel, according to the documents, while thousands more was spent on O'Donoghue's travel by state agencies including Horse Racing Ireland, the Irish Film Board and Tourism Ireland. These figures are not revealed in the documents released.

During a 42-month period between 2002 and 2005, O'Donoghue travelled abroad on 48 different occasions with his wife Kate-Ann accompanying him on at least 27 of those occasions.

They travelled to the United States on at least six occasions, visited Australia twice, attended international soccer tournaments and golf events and made an annual pilgrimage to England for St Patrick's Day and the Cheltenham racing festival.

This weekend the Ceann Comhairle claimed in a solicitor's letter to the Sunday Tribune that information in a series of articles we have published in relation to his expenses have "fundamentally misled the Irish people".

The letter was issued from his solicitors on Friday afternoon, a day after the new FoI material was released and just hours after a series of questions about O'Donoghue's travel were submitted to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

Solicitor's letter

The letter from Holmes O'Malley Sexton said: "We write to put you on notice that some of the information which you have published in a number of articles and relating to our client and expenses is totally inaccurate, misleading, exaggerated and disingenuous.

"Further, we also write to advise that same has fundamentally misled the Irish people. Mr John O'Donoghue, the Ceann Comhairle intends to ensure that the Public record on such matters is corrected in a manner consistent with the proper discharge of his duties as Ceann Comhairle. It is our view that you should be aware of this.

"Further, you might please note that our client will be taking such further steps as may be advised in due course."

Determining exactly how much was spent on overseas travel has proved virtually impossible as many of the bills were picked up by agencies like Tourism Ireland, Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Film Board.