Private chefs, luxury hotels, limos and gifts - bills for Cowen's department in bailout year

 

A CHEF was hired to cook breakfast at a cost of €300 for ministers for a weekly cabinet meeting in late November 2010, only two days after then taoiseach Brian Cowen announced that Ireland would seek an international bailout package.

The Department of the Taoiseach spent between €250 to €300 each week during 2010 for food and chef hire for the weekly cabinet breakfast meeting.

The practice continued until the end of the year notwithstanding the intervention of the EU and IMF to shore up Ireland’s finances. The figures show that on November 23rd, two days after the announcement, €276 was paid for an agency chef, and for the ingredients to cook breakfast for the Cabinet.

The details are included in records released to Gavin Sheridan of thestory.ie. The 174 pages of raw data formed a “datadump”, a copy of the Department of an Taoiseach’s financial management system.

It included thousands of items of expenditure ranging from Mr Cowen’s hotel bills when abroad; catering bills, limousine hire; itemised spending on gifts for visiting dignitaries; the department’s taxi bills; and itemised spending for the hundreds of courses and seminars attended by staff during the year.

The records show a pattern of very generous spending in the department during 2010 at a time the State was going through the biggest financial crisis since its foundation.

One of the significant overall bills was for educational courses and seminars for staff. Despite it being one of the smallest department, a total of €107,000 was nonetheless spend on training, seminars and courses. These included first aid; computer courses; French and Italian; protocol training; and various civil servant exams. It also included a spend of €10,000 in course fees for one person attending TCD and almost €5,000 for a staff member doing a masters in Cambridge university. Among the more unusual courses was a humanistic counselling course (€2,000) and a course in counselling/psychotherapy (€4,850). In addition €395 was spent for a one-day course in work-life balance for a senior civil servant.

Departmental spending on taxis totalled €37,600 for the year, while limousine hire for the taoiseach’s foreign visits amounted to €28,844.

The biggest individual bill for limousine hire was for €5,772 during Mr Cowen’s trip to New York in July 2010.

A total of €8,000 was spent on the taoiseach’s hotel accommodation in 10 cities during seven trips abroad during the year. The overall cost for the trips came to almost €40,000 when the costs for all delegates were included. The most expensive hotel Mr Cowen stayed in during 2010 was St Regis Hotel in Washington, which cost €1,199 (for three nights) during the annual St Patrick’s Day visit to the US capital.

The bill for a lunch hosted by Mr Cowen at St Regis came to €2,563. One item recorded, a €544 one-night stay in the Fairmont Wharf Hotel in Boston, related to a stay the previous year, when Mr Cowen attended senator Edward Kennedy’s funeral in August 2009.

Among the smaller items was the €38.25 patisseries bill each week from Café Crepe for the meeting of secretaries general. Government press adviser John Downing spent a total of €392 on 11 lunch and dinner meetings with journalists, one of which was described as “a national editor”.

Among the items bought for the taoiseach’s gift stock was rare Yeats poetry (€165); cufflinks (€464) and a Dublin Crystal bowl for a US trip (€543). The department also spent €2,147 for 500 pens to add to the gift stock.

The biggest individual item is for €127,853; the annual maintenance and support charge for “ecabinet”, which is an electronic organisation system for the cabinet. Some €6,326 was spent to renew domain names including taoiseach.ie; betterregulation.ie; forumoneurope.ie; rialtosniosfearr.ie; and lisbonagenda.ie.

Members of the protocol staff within the department were allotted €440 in annual clothing allowance while a small number of other staff received €65 in footwear allowance.

The full record of the “datadump” can be viewed on thestory.ie.