The centre where the ISI conference was held in Durban

THE Central Statistics Office (CSO) has defended a decision to send 10 civil servants to South Africa for a conference in August at the height of controversy about overseas travel expenses.

The CSO said it spent €29,075 sending the officials abroad for a conference of the International Statistical Institute (ISI) in Durban last summer.

The body said it had kept costs low by booking economy-class flights and relatively inexpensive hotels. However, the trip caused a furore within the organisation, where employees' salaries had already been cut by levies and staff faced further wage cuts in the budget.

A total of €12,120 was spent on flights for nine officials, with the most expensive of those working out at €1,602.

Hotel costs came to €11,285, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, with an average bill of around €1,217 per person.

Travel and subsistence along with per diem payments for civil servants amounted to €3,100 with each of the delegates claiming around €300.

The CSO also said it had paid registration fees for each of those attending, which worked out at €264.60 each.

A further €17,860 was spent on promotions, including €5,720 for a promotional video.

An exhibition stand and its fitting out cost €6,720, according to the CSO, with a further €4,236 spent on "promotional material".

The office said that 2,500 sweets had cost €1,911, 1,250 bags had cost €1,477 and 2,000 pens had cost €476.

It said: "In response to an invitation from the International Statistical Institute, the Irish government agreed in 2004 to host the 58th session in Ireland in 2011.

"[The] CSO, in line with normal practice, was asked to take responsibility for organising the event. The successful hosting of an event of this scale requires careful planning over a number of years and the preparations are already well advanced for the 2011 conference.

"It is expected that close to 3,000 delegates will attend the Dublin event in August 2011, resulting in a welcome boost of over €6m to the economy.

"In addition to the main event, which will be one of the first large conferences to be held in the new convention centre, a number of other smaller satellite meetings and courses will be held."

The CSO said it had covered the cost of seven people to attend from its "special conference budget", and of two others, who had been invited to present scientific papers in Durban.