€52m Farmleigh hosted only two foreign dignitaries in 2009

 

THE STATE mansion Farmleigh was used to accommodate only two visiting dignitaries last year.

This compares with seven foreign dignitaries in 2006, the largest number of VIPs to stay at the house since it was refurbished and opened by the Government in July 2001.

One of the main reasons cited by the Government for buying the former Guinness estate was that it would be an official State guest house for visiting heads of State and dignitaries.

Last year, the prime minister of Tanzania, Mizengo Peter Pinda, stayed at the mansion in the Phoenix Park for three nights during his visit to Ireland in February. The Macedonian prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, spent three nights at Farmleigh in November.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen occasionally stays at the estate, but not in the mansion. The estate also hosted the Global Irish Economic Forum in September.

Asked why the mansion was not used more by visiting dignitaries, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the State had no role in providing accommodation for private visits by foreign dignitaries.

He said the State organised the accommodation for official State visits by presidents and prime ministers. However, it was the role of foreign embassies to organise accommodation for ministers and other dignitaries when they travelled abroad, he said. The embassies normally use hotels to accommodate their visitors.

Figures provided by the Office of Public Works show the Farmleigh mansion was used on five occasions in 2008. Guests included the president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who stayed for four nights; the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who stayed for two nights; and Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who spent one night there.

The Government bought the estate from the Guinness family for €29.2 million in 1999 and spent €23 million refurbishing it. Other dignitaries to use the State guesthouse since include former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and former US president Jimmy Carter.

While the house has not been inundated with foreign dignitaries, it has proved popular with the public. Some 245,937 members of the public visited Farmleigh last year, compared with 198,842 in 2008.