26 April 2006

£50,000 bill for five NIO officials’ US trip

Daily Ireland

by Ciarán Barnes
26/04/2006

A new junket row has engulfed the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) after it admitted using almost £50,000 (€72,000) of taxpayers’ money to fly officials on an all-expenses paid trip to the US for St Patrick’s Day.
A total of £41,259 (€60,000) was spent on travel costs, with a further £2,736 (€3,940) splashed out on top hotels, and £1,765 (€2,542) on car hire.
Four officials accompanied direct-rule secretary of state Peter Hain on the three-day Washington visit, including his private secretary and special adviser.
SDLP MLA John Dallat criticised the amount spent by the NIO on the US trip.
The East Derry politician is a former member of the Assembly Audit Committee, set up to monitor how public cash is spent. He said: “It is a bit rich for Peter Hain to lecture local politicians on public governance when he and his entourage are running up a bill like this.
“This annual NIO trip to America at St Patrick’s Day has become a junket.”
Mr Dallat said that during periods of direct-rule civil servants have been proven to take more trips abroad at the public’s expense.
“At least when the Assembly is up and running we were able to monitor these trips, but while the cat’s away the mice will play. When we do have devolved government again the issue of departmental tips abroad is something that is going to have to be seriously considered,” added Mr Dallat.
Speaking at Westminster, Mr Hain justified the US trip, giving details on his delegation attending a number of important events during their time in Washington.
“This [the events] included the Northern Ireland Bureau breakfast which showcases investment opportunities in Northern Ireland to US business,” said Mr Hain.
In March, Daily Ireland revealed the NIO had spent more than £2.2 million (€3.1 million) between August 2004 and February 2006 flying civil servants around the world. Politicians reacted angrily to the news denouncing the “jetsetting culture” they said exists within the department.

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