Dick Roche: Argentinean bicentenary

GOVERNMENT ministers are still bringing their wives abroad on official business, with the taxpayer left to pick up the bill.

Minister of state Dick Roche travelled to Argentina and Brazil in May in the company of his wife Eleanor, documents released by the Department of the Taoiseach revealed.

Although Roche – who once confessed that a single night at a Paris hotel had cost the taxpayer €1,500 – was said by his civil servants to be desperate to keep costs to a minimum, flights for the minister, his wife and a civil servant ultimately cost the taxpayer almost €12,000.

Flights costing €3,000 each were booked for the Roches and according to records from the Department of the Taoiseach website, a further upgrade was applied to the flights at an extra cost of €2,600. That brought the grand total for their flights to €8,600, with a further €3,000 spent on a flight for the minister's private secretary.

An email written by a civil servant at the Department of the Taoiseach explained: "I understand that the minister was very concerned about the costs in this regard.

"The options that have been given to the minister are the best and only options at the moment.

"Booking on that route is under considerable pressure at the moment. This is due to both backlogs from volcanic ash difficulties and also events relating to the bicentenary of Argentina. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a more economical route or carrier."

According to correspondence, Roche was eager to fly in economy class and it appears as if the original flights were booked in "premium economy".

An email sent by the Department of Foreign Affairs said: "I spoke in-house here about Minister of State [MoS] Roche's decision to travel economy class to South America. While MoS Roche is entirely justified in travelling business class for such a long journey on official business, it was generally felt that we should respect his decision not to."

The email was sent on 13 May but, seven days later, the 'upgrade' costing €1,300 each for the minister and his wife was applied to the flights.

The minister was also at pains to keep his accommodation costs low and when presented with a choice of three hotels – two five-stars and one four-star – Roche elected for the cheaper option.

Final costs for accommodation came in at just €882 for the delegation, as two nights at a hotel for the minister and limousine transport were paid for by the organisers of the bicentenary events.