Government departments have spent around €4m on overnight travel expenses for staff who moved out of Dublin under the government's ill-fated decentralisation programme but who have to travel back and forth for meetings in the capital.

Total travel costs for eight government departments for sending staff back to Dublin to attend meetings over the past 30 months came to just short of €2m, Labour party spokeswoman on finance Joan Burton was told.

Given that another seven departments did not supply the figures, including the larger departments such as education, social protection, transport, justice and foreign affairs, the total cost should at least double to €4m.

Agriculture minister Brendan Smith racked up the highest travel costs of over €556,000, shunting staff from Castlebar, Cavan, Clonakilty, Portlaoise and Wexford to Dublin for meetings.

But the far smaller Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs spent €194,970 sending staff from its interim headquarters at Tubbercurry in Co Sligo to Dublin and back again.

Peter Power, the junior minister in charge of Irish Aid, spent over €350,000 funding the costs for staff travelling up and down from its new base in Limerick to Dublin.

There was considerable resistance among Irish Aid workers to the move to Limerick, with staff arguing that most of their work involved meetings in Dublin and that travelling up and down would be a waste of time and money. Many of the department's most senior aid workers quit the department rather than move to Limerick.

The figures will spark more criticism of the decentralisation programme, which is widely expected to be scrapped next year.

So far, around 3,000 of the 10,200 public servants scheduled to move have completed their exodus from the capital, seven years after the then finance minister, Charlie McCreevy, announced the ambitious programme.

In its revised capital spending programme produced last month, the government admitted that the "case for prioritising further investment in decentralisation accommodation must be considered in the context of constrained resource availability" and said that it will be reviewed early next year.

The department of the environment opened its new headquarters in Wexford earlier this year and Office of Public Works staff also moved into their new state-of-the-art headquarters at Trim, Co Meath.