O'Donoghue: major review

THE amount of travel undertaken by TDs and senators on overseas junkets as part of their work with government committees is set to be cut by half. A major review of all trips is now being undertaken to ensure no money is wasted as part of a drive to cut €20m from the budget of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The travel budget will be cut by 50% while expenses for members of the Dáil and Seanad will also be cut, with mileage claims set to drop by a quarter.

However, overseas travel by government committees will continue in a limited form with another two-day trip to Brussels by the enterprise committee planned for next week.

Four TDs and a government official are set to travel to Brussels whilst another party of six will travel the following week to view "broadcasting facilities" in the European Union.

Eugene Crowley, clerk to the enterprise committee, confirmed that four TDs – Willie Penrose, Cyprian Brady, Dara Calleary and Deirdre Clune – will travel tomorrow to Belgium.

He said: "We basically have five meetings in the one day; we are going out on Monday evening and flying back in on Tuesday evening.

"There is quite an extensive agenda. We are firstly going to meet the commissioner on consumer affairs to discuss a major problem with labelling of food.

"There is a lot of imported food coming into the country, where a small amount of work is being done here and it is being relabelled as Irish.

"The committee wants to remove that loophole. We are also meeting the Irish permanent representative in Brussels and will be calling in on Charlie McCreevy's directorate."

The enterprise committee also travelled to Gussing in Austria last year to study local electricity production in the area.

Crowley said: "They have been producing electricity from wood and other renewable sources like clover and grass to sell to local industry.

"They have also used the energy to provide cheap heating and electricity to homes and reckon that 4,000 jobs have been created in that area.

"We will also be having a third substantive meeting with the secretariat of the Commissioner for the Internal Market, conducting inquiries into matters concerning retail trade in Ireland.

Last week, the Sunday Tribune revealed how six TDs are set to travel to Brussels to view the European Parliament proceedings broadcast online.

There had been a proposal to launch a Dáil TV station, subsequently dropped, which is now likely to be replaced by an online broadcasting facility.

The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has committed to make savings
of at least €20m from its budget by the end of 2009 and travel will be the first casualty.

Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue, who chairs the commission, has already announced a major review of expenses for TDs and senators which is expected to save €4m.