Government taxi fares cost public purse over €750,000 last year

Simon Coveney’s Department of Foreign Affairs racked up biggest bill of over €350,000

Simon Coveney defended the expenditure “in the context of increased diplomatic activity at European and international level brought about by Brexit preparations”. Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Simon Coveney defended the expenditure “in the context of increased diplomatic activity at European and international level brought about by Brexit preparations”. Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

Government officials ran up taxi bills totalling more than €750,000 last year, with one Government department spending almost €1,000 a day on fares.

Latest figures show wildly varying spends between departments on private cab hire.

The Department of Health, for example, spent less than €2,000 on taxis during the year, while diplomats and civil servants at the Department of Foreign Affairs left the meters running at a cost of more than €350,000.

Officials at the Department of Finance, based at Government Buildings on Merrion Street, Dublin, spent €18,460 taking private cabs to and from meetings.

But their colleagues at the Department of Agriculture, just behind them on Kildare Street, ran up bills more than twice that, with fares totalling €46,926 – nearly €1,000 a week.

The Department of Justice – the second-biggest spender on taxis after the Department of Foreign Affairs – paid out €173,044 during the year.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said this included taxi fares for agencies under his remit, such as the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Data Protection Commission and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Niall Collins, the Fianna Fáil TD who obtained the figures, said more transparency was “desperately needed” in the use of the public purse for private travel.

“There are major discrepancies between the taxi spends of different Government departments,” he said.

“While some disparity is to be expected, the differences are quite stark.

“Why does the Department of Health spend €2,000 per year but the Justice Department spends over €170,000? Both are in relative close proximity to Leinster House.

“What is desperately needed is greater transparency, and a commitment to reducing these taxi costs.”

Alternative methods

Mr Collins, his party’s spokesman on foreign affairs, suggested Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney’s department needed particular scrutiny.

“I am led to believe that the total amount it spent covers taxi use at overseas missions,” he said.

“However, this needs greater transparency, in my opinion. If consistent taxi use is required, shouldn’t alternative travel methods be explored?”

Mr Coveney said his department’s €350,625 taxi bill – €960 every day – included fares run up at most of Ireland’s 83 embassies and consular missions abroad as well as a small number of development-focused missions, mostly in Africa.

“Given the nature of my department’s responsibilities, officers are obliged to undertake a significant amount of official international travel, often taking place during unsociable hours when the safety and security of officers necessitates travel by taxi,” he said.

“Officers across the growing mission network also travel to frequent meetings and out-of-hours events as part of their core official duties, where it may often be only feasible by taxi.”

Brexit preparations

Mr Coveney added that travel expenditure at his department “is being actively minimised”, although figures show the spend last year was up from the €337,872 taxi bill in 2017.

The Tánaiste said this was “in the context of increased diplomatic activity at European and international level brought about by Brexit preparations and our United Nations Security Council campaign, an expanded mission network and a larger workforce.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, whose officials spent €26,053 on private cab hire, said taxis were used for official purposes where there was “no other practical or suitable alternative mode of transport available.”

Most other Ministers said something similar.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said his department’s €46,926 taxi bill included “domestic and foreign travel”, such as travel to the EU Council of Ministers, bilateral meetings and foreign trade missions.

“This expenditure also covers service providers paid in the first instance by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the cost of which has subsequently been recouped from my department, for the work of agricultural attachés based in the various embassies around the world,” he added.