Minister's car-hire tops €21,000 for British visits

 

EXPENSES FOR car-hire services provided by a London-based firm to former minister for arts, sport and tourism John O’Donoghue during four visits to Britain in 2006 and 2007 came to a total of €21,289.57, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

Three of the four visits were connected with the attendance of Mr O’Donoghue, who now holds the position of Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, at race meetings in Cheltenham and Ascot, the documents – released to The Irish Times– show.

In 2006, when Mr O’Donoghue visited Manchester on official business during St Patrick’s week, prior to attending Cheltenham, car-hire payments made to Terry Gallagher, of Cartel Limousines Ltd, came to €7,591.96 for “airport pick-ups”. This covered the period March 11th-13th.

The following June, Mr O’Donoghue attended the Royal Ascot race meeting over a four-day period and Mr Gallagher’s firm was paid a total of €3,582.22, according to the official receipts.

On November 7th-8th, 2006, the minister made an overnight visit to London where he gave two television interviews. The cost of car hire came to €1,272.15 for his 21-hour stay.

Mr O’Donoghue also attended the Cheltenham race meeting in March 2007 as well as spending two nights in London, incurring car hire expenses of €8,843.24.

A native of Co Mayo, Mr Gallagher has provided car hire services to the Irish Embassy in London over several years. He is a son of the late Denis Gallagher (1922-2001), who was minister for the Gaeltacht in two Fianna Fáil administrations.

In a statement issued on July 27th, when the controversy over Mr O’Donoghue’s expenses erupted – also included with the FoI documentation – the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism points out: “Ministers, given the nature of the brief, travel abroad to high-profile events, such  as the Venice Biennale, the Olympics, the World Cup matches, all of which are regarded as contributing to the promotion of Ireland as a tourism destination and a venue for international sports events.

“The costs of flights and accommodation for such events invariably involve a high premium worldwide. In relation to the procuring of accommodation and car hire, every effort is made to secure the best possible rates for the Minister and the delegation.”