Auckland: €22k in six months

IRELAND'S network of international honorary consuls have cost more than €1.33m in expenses during the past six years.

A detailed breakdown of the costs show that some are claiming up to €40,000 a year in taxi fares, couriers, printing and other costs.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it had a network of 73 honorary consuls and 17 honorary consuls general in 58 countries.

Each is paid an "honorarium" of €1,125 a year for their services but can also be reimbursed for costs involved in running their offices.

Many of the costs related to postage, couriers and taxi fares but in some cases were used to buy flowers and other items.

At the consulate in Auckland, New Zealand, for instance, costs of $38,254 (€22,000) were run up in a period between April and September 2008. Of that, almost $16,000 (€9,000) was run up on a postal bill with a further $1,256 spent on mobile phones and $1,237 at a local radio station.

In the following expense period between October 2008 and March 2009, a significant postal bill was also amassed with a further $80 spent at a florist.

Also charged was an American Express bill for $3,311 including $400 to attend the regional final of the Rose of Tralee in Taranaki.

At the consulate in Hong Kong, bills of up to €3,500 were amassed in some months with the majority of costs paid out for mail, courier fees, and computer equipment.

Expense claims for the honorary consul in the Philippines were running at about €20,000 a year, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Similar bills were also accrued by the honorary consul in Accra, Ghana, where couriers, photocopying and internet usage made up most of the bill. According to the documents, charges were also made for document destruction.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said: "Honorary consuls provide an extremely important service for the Irish state, particularly in countries where there is no resident embassy or consulate.

"For example, during the period in question, the honorary consuls in Auckland issued more than 6,000 passports to Irish citizens."

It said that in a small number of cases where there was a significant workload, honorary consuls were also given a contribution towards secretarial costs and office rent.

"The persons who are appointed as honorary consuls are generally experienced professional or business people, who are well-established, are capable of providing consular services to Irish citizens, have good high-level contacts in government and business circles ... and have centrally located offices," the department said.

According to figures released to website, the annual cost of expenses for the honorary consuls in 2009 was €262,071, a significant fall from a high of €330,690 the previous year.

Figures from 2008 show that the most costly operations were those in Auckland, Manila, Accra, Bangkok and Hong Kong.