Foreign Affairs spends more than €0.5m on official entertainment
BACKGROUND:It’s a costly business promoting Ireland’s image abroad, as DFA costs show
Wine: €51,764. Gifts: €16,612. Dinner held in honour of the Chinese vice-president in Bunratty Castle: €8,324. The promotion of Ireland’s image abroad: priceless.
The Department of Foreign Affairs spent over €511,000 on State and other entertainment costs between January 2011 and June 2012, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The department spent more than €50,000 on wine supplies for State and other entertainment in the 1½-year period. Over €13,000 was spent on wine supplies in the context of Ireland’s OSCE chairmanship up to June 2012.
A spokeswoman for the department said: “Official and State entertainment, which includes the hosting of lunches and dinners, plays a productive and pivotal role in the promotion of a positive image of Ireland and [in] raising our profile internationally through the further development and strengthening of bilateral political, economic/foreign earnings and cultural links with the countries and international organisations concerned. It is an important part of the work of all diplomatic services.”
The department spent almost €1.5 million on hotel and accommodation costs over the 18-month period.
It refused to grant access to a column of information giving a description of the accommodation, number of persons accommodated, etc, saying this column contained personal information which was exempt under the Act.
However, one part of the database contained some information on hotel and accommodation costs relating to Irish Aid.
This part of the database accounted for over €500,000 of department spend for the period. Of this, almost €300,000 was categorised as Irish Aid costs (without any further breakdown as to what country the costs were incurred in) and €76,000 was uncategorised.
Other hotel and accommodation costs in the Irish Aid bracket related to Zambia, where just over €20,000 in hotel costs were cited; Malawi €19,396; Mozambique €19,338; South Africa €17,707; Tanzania €15,000; Uganda €14,634; Lesotho €10,005; Ethiopia €6,883; and Vietnam €4,472.
PR costs totalled over €200,000, including advertising, the advertisement of job positions and the hosting of media events. The department paid €447.70 for “UK flags” ahead of the historic State visit by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
One entry worth €68.99 is marked “purchase of living shamrock for [Saint Patrick’s Day] events” in Moscow. Almost €1,000 was spent on shamrock stickers for events in Tokyo in 2011 and 2012, while “Irish paper flags for official use” and “balloons with Ireland design for official use” cost €80.95 and €166 respectively in Berlin in June 2012.
Getting the picture
Photography-related costs to the department topped €25,000 over the period (a figure which includes €10,909 covered under the aforementioned PR costs).
The Department of Foreign Affairs also dabbled in some motor dealing, with net costs to the department over the period totalling €100,000.
It spent €150,000 on the purchase of new vehicles in 2011 but recouped €84,765 of this in proceeds from the sale of old cars, meaning the net cost in these two categories stood at €64,241 at the end of the year.
Similarly, in 2012 total expenditure on new cars totalled €74,231 but this was offset by €38,470 on the disposal of old vehicles, leaving a net outlay of €35,761 for 2012.
In its response to the release of the figures, the department said it was policy that official cars were bought or replaced only if absolutely necessary, for example where there were security or safety considerations, or where the cost of maintenance was no longer economical.
“In accordance with this policy, five official vehicles were purchased in 2011, and two in the first half of 2012 . . . In 2011, new official cars were purchased on a trade-in basis in Pretoria, London, New Delhi, New York (United Nations) and Buenos Aires.
“Vehicles were sold and not replaced in Tallinn and Madrid . . . In the first half of 2012, new official vehicles were purchased on a trade-in basis in Washington and Lisbon. Vehicles were sold and not replaced in Bratislava and in Tehran, where the embassy closed.”
Meanwhile, a car which was written off after it was severely damaged by flooding in Rome was costed at €3,397 for dismantling and scrappage.
Another category of spending sought under The Irish Times Freedom of Information request was first-class air fares; however a spokeswoman for the department’s FOI department said there had been no expenditure in either category in the specified time period.
All totals include both Department of Foreign Affairs and Irish Aid spending.
DFA spending Jan 2011 - June 2012
Almost €1.5 millionHotel and accommodation costs
€511,000State and other entertainment costs
€3,397Dismantling and scrappage of car damaged by flooding in Rome
€200,000PR costs, including advertising, photography and the hosting of media events
€300,000Irish Aid accommodation costs
€80.95Irish paper flags for official use in Berlin, June 2012