Travel: €600,000 in three years

EVEN in a government with a well-deserved reputation for excess, ex-tánaiste Mary Harney's love of all things five-star still shines through.

From €1,200-a-night suites to $410 beauty spa bills, the health minister has seen the inside of at least as many luxury hotels as an average member of Britain's royal family.

Harney has never been shy of using VIP transport either and once marshalled one of the government's jets to travel to Co Leitrim to open a friend's off-licence.

At the height of the controversy over ministerial expenses, it emerged that three years of travel for Harney at the height of the Celtic Tiger era had cost the taxpayer €600,000.

In February 2008, she jetted off to the US on an official visit with her husband and advisers to Phoenix, Houston and Washington DC.

An important debate on healthcare was due to take place in the Dáil but Harney could not partake as business abroad – including attendance at the Super Bowl – was calling.

For that trip, Harney's delegation flew to Arizona, where they drove to the Mii Amo Enchantment hotel in Sedona.

The hotel – named by the New York Times as one of the decade's most influential hotels – was more than two-and-a-half hours' drive from Phoenix, where all of the official engagements were taking place.

Accommodation for the minister and her husband at the spa resort cost $1,580 with more than €10,200 paid out in car and limousine charges on the trip.

The estimated cost for use of the government's Gulfstream IV executive jet was estimated in the region of €163,000.

From Phoenix, Harney and company moved on to Washington DC where they stayed at the Renaissance Mayflower hotel.

More than $3,500 was spent there, with a restaurant bill for $270, a round of drinks costing $90, three breakfasts costing $71 and $32 spent on an omelette.

In April 2005, the health minister was one of four senior politicians who ran up a €21,000 bill at a hotel in Rome during a single night.

Harney along with President Mary McAleese, then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny enjoyed an evening in the sumptuous surrounds of the Hotel de la Minerve during a trip to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Harney's room on that trip
cost €1,200, which seems reasonable when set against McAleese's €3,198 suite.

And Harney need never have worried about going short of a few shillings when venturing overseas.

Her visa limit was set at a massive €50,000 – and that was more than enough to cover costs such as a €994 meal at Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago, when the normal departmental credit card was rejected.

Luxury did not always have to come with a price for Harney, and having wealthy friends was useful for a busy minister looking to unwind in the summer.

In 1999, it emerged that Harney, along with the then finance minister Charlie McCreevy, had enjoyed holidays in France at the Provence holiday home of millionaire businessman Ulick