FF Senator declares trips to four states for US degree

 

WEXFORD FIANNA Fáil Senator Jim Walsh visited Jordan, the eastern European states of Georgia and Azerbaijan and the US last year with an American educational institute for which former taoiseach Bertie Ahern is an advisory board member.

Mr Walsh, a Senator since 1997, lists the trips as part of his disclosure for the annual register of interests of members of the Seanad. The trips comprised “flights, transport, accommodation etc” and were funded by the Legislative Leadership Institute of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The institute describes itself as an academy of foreign affairs and has links to the American-Irish University in Merrion Square. Mr Ahern is named as one of three board advisers, along with former US general Tommy Franks, and Jeanette Kagame, the wife of Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

The institute’s website has no contact address or contact details but offers a master’s of international relations degree. It states: “The program is designed for policymakers, appointed officials and military officers wishing to further their foreign-policy expertise and expand their network of global contacts at key points in their public service.” It also states its courses are designed by former legislators, legislative staff, business leaders, academics, senior military leaders and members of the media.

As part of the two-year course there was a field trip to Ireland in December 2010. It included visits to Leinster House and to historic sites in Dublin, Wexford and Belfast. The programme includes a lecture by Mr Ahern on the peace process, meetings with Frank Daly of Nama, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, then Dublin lord mayor Gerry Breen and US ambassador Dan Rooney.

Last night Mr Walsh said he had been invited to participate in the course by the institute. He said the trips were mainly to areas where conflict resolution was needed – such as the feud between Azerbaijain and Armenia, and between Georgia and South Ossetia.

Mr Walsh said he was asked to participate on foot of a recommendation but was unaware of the person who made the recommendation. He said it was a full master’s course and the quality was excellent. The participants also visited Rwanda where they met Kagame and were briefed on the conflict there. In the US, they also attended a lecture prepared for them by former US vice-president Dick Cheney on the strategy in relation to Iraq.

Mr Walsh said the trips had been fully funded but he had not tried to estimate their costs. “Given their locations and their situations, there is a significant value attached to it. I did not need to declare these trips but I decided it was the best thing to do,” he said.

The website of the institute describes Mr Ahern as “one of the major engineers of the so-called ‘Irish Miracle’”. Mr Ahern was not available for comment last night.

The Independent university Senator Prof John Crown also declares four international trips in 2011 to specialist medical conferences – three of which were in the US – where his flights and accommodation were sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. He said yesterday the practice was standard and widespread for European academic medical specialists.

Senator Martin McAleese lists honorary membership of six golf clubs in his disclosed interests.