OIREACHTAS authorities have defended the cost of a €16,000 junket to Thailand earlier this year for Labour TD Brendan Howlin and two other politicians.
The delegation, made up of Howlin, Fianna Fáil senator Ann Ormonde and Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan, jetted out the day after the Central Statistics Office (CSO) confirmed that the Irish economy had shrank at a record rate in 2009.
On 25 March, the CSO said GDP had fallen by 7.1% while GNP had plunged by a staggering 11.3%. The next day, the three politicians enjoyed a break from the endless stream of bad news as they caught a KLM jet to Amsterdam and onwards to Bangkok. Each ticket cost in excess of €3,200 and was booked in the name of the Inter Parliamentary Association in Kildare House.
All three stayed at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, described as a "luxury Bangkok hotel". Howlin's bill for six nights came to €1,509, according to documents obtained by the Sunday Tribune. The final bill had been higher but the Labour TD and Leas Ceann Comhairle elected to pay his own charges for "laundry". On his return to Ireland, the costs continued to roll in and a travel and subsistence claim worth €664 and official gifts costing €33 were also charged to the taxpayer.
As head of the delegation, Howlin's room was slightly more luxurious than those of his colleagues, who were booked into less expensive accommodation.