State spends €66m on Irish embassies

State spends €66m on Irish embassies

The State spent more than €66m on staffing and rental costs for its embassies around the world last year, figures released by the Department of Foreign Affairs have confirmed, writes Stephen Rogers of the Irish Examiner.

More than €8m of that total was spent on rent, with the premises in Brussels alone costing more than €1m to lease each year.

By far the most costly Irish embassy is in London. It cost the State more than €6.3m in 2015, €680,000 of which was spent on rent. Other high-cost locations include Paris (€3m), Washington (€2.2m), and Tokyo (€1.8m). Last year’s €1.9m cost of the embassy in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, excludes rent as the Irish State owns the building, which has a value of €2.8m.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the cost of each embassy “includes staff costs, building rental and/or maintenance and other overheads”.

“The work of our embassies around the world continues to be important in Ireland’s economic recovery and the restoration of our international reputation.” He said that work included:

* Promoting Ireland as a source of high-quality exports, a destination for investment, research, study, and tourism to targeted audiences and contacts.

* Supporting trade missions and other trade-focussed high-level visits; directly assisting Irish companies with advice, introductions, and working to resolve regulatory or market-access issues, in partnership with Enterprise Ireland.

* Providing frontline consular and passport services to Irish citizens overseas.

Of 62 Irish embassy buildings around the world, all but 11 are rented.

The embassies the State owns are worth a total of €87.5m, including a property on Avenue Foch in Paris which accounts for more than half the total, at €45m. The embassy building in Rome is valued at €18.5m.

Mr Flanagan said the 11 places where properties had been acquired were locations where the Government considered the State should be represented “and where there is a clear advantage to owning, rather than renting accommodation”.

The others are in Saudi Arabia (€3m), Australia (€4m), Zambia (€476,000), Tanzania €1.4m), Ethiopia (€2.4m), Washington (€2.8m), Netherlands (€6.15m), and Denmark (€932,000).

Sinn Féin TD Sean Crowe asked Mr Flanagan if he was aware staff working abroad in embassies and consulates were being discriminated against in terms of mortgage interest relief, special savings incentive accounts, and third-level education for their children, as a result of their service for the State abroad. He said they were considered as resident in Ireland for tax and voting purposes but not when it came to many of the basic entitlements.

The minister said, in 2014, it was confirmed that the dependent children of officials serving the State abroad, and residing with the official, would be considered resident in Ireland for the purposes of university tuition fees.

“In a number of other areas, I am aware that officials have encountered various difficulties on account of periods spent outside the State; for example, the issue of health insurance and lifetime community rating. My department is currently engaging with staff representatives on these issues with a view to finding a satisfactory way forward,” the minister said.

* This article first appeared in today’s Irish Examiner.

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