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Irish diplomats receive €820k of foreign language tuition

Irish diplomats received over €820,000 worth of tuition in Swahili, Hebrew, Chinese, and other languages since 2013, records show.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has revealed that its domestic and international officials attended classes in 35 languages in the period.

These included Indonesian, Arabic, Cantonese, Bulgarian, Slovak, Norwegian, Vietnamese, Latvian, and Korean.

From January to September this year, expenditure of more than €146,000 was recorded for language training bills at the department, which has 320 employees working abroad.

A department spokesman said staff assigned to missions overseas would often need to interact with government officials such as police, coroners, public health officials, local NGOs, and the media.

“An operational knowledge of the local language is highly desirable, especially in countries where there is a heavy consular workload or where Irish Aid programmes are in operation.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had 1,470 employees in total in September and does not have an in-house language service, it said.

A number of Irish schools and tutors have been hired for public servants at the department, while language classes for staff worldwide are provided by local instructors.

Last year, the department spent €254,000 on global language training for staff, according to data released under freedom of information.

The department also stated it provides employees with general “comprehensive pre-posting training” before beginning their duties in other territories.

“This programme includes modules on personal and mission security, communications skills, management training, negotiations skills, and training on passport and consular services.”

Defence Forces and Garda personnel also give security briefings to employees, and their partners, regarding potential terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, the department also confirmed it spent €1,880 on gifts for international dignitaries that were exchanged during various meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

Items given by Mr Flanagan since he was appointed in July 2014 included carriage clocks, crystal glasses, and literary works from Joyce and Heaney.

The most expensive official present was a framed piece of Mountmellick lace worth €350 given to Britain’s Prince Charles. The former US senator, George Mitchell, was given a pair of DesignYard silver square cufflinks, worth €120, in April.

Separately, Mr Flanagan submitted travel expenses totalling €45,734 from January 2014 to July 2016, according to the FoI response received from his department. The expenses included €34,896 on mileage and €10,838 on subsistence.

Languages include Swahili, Hebrew, Chinese, Arabic, Cantonese, Norwegian, Latvian, and Korean