THE governor of the Central Bank was forced into an embarrassing shift in policy last night by deciding to ban all spouse travel after admitting partners of employees clocked up €67,450 in costs on 71 foreign trips.
The average cost of long-haul flights amounted to €4,515.
Patrick Honohan admitted the bank paid for travel of accompanying spouses to business meetings, 62 of which were on European flights, and nine in long-haul in business class.
“I was not aware that the organisation had been covering the cost of so many spouse trips,” he said.
“While some of this expenditure could perhaps have been justifiable in the past, the practice does not seem appropriate in present circumstances.
“Accordingly, I have decided that spouse travel will no longer be paid for.”
The bank revealed some 2,700 bank trips had been paid for in 2007 and 2008.
Of these, 52 related to the spouses of 35 staff going to 49 meetings where “spouses’ programmes” were held. Some spouses went on more than one trip.
In 2009, 18 spouses of 17 staff travelled to 13 international meetings. The Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland paid for the travel, it added.
Of the trips, 62 were in Europe, averaging a cost of €435, while the average long-haul cost was €4,515.
Mr Honohan’s office said most of the trips were European Central Bank related.
The policy of accepting foreign invitations reflected Department of Finance 2009 guidelines, it added.
Where a formal spousal programme was provided, spousal expenses were allowed on an exceptional basis, usually once a year, if approved by the director general or chief executive.
Central Bank chiefs are to be hauled before the Public Accounts Committee as part of a probe into how and why the agency funded the spouse trips. The spending watchdog intends to investigate how the trips were funded, how much was spent, who went on the flights and where they flew.
Its chairman Bernard Allen said: “We welcome Governor Honohan’s statement that in future, spouses’ travel will no longer be paid for. We hope that other State bodies will consider following this example and do away with this practice, other than when absolutely necessary. We’ll want to know details referred to in the report. Who was on them and what was the purpose of the visits?”
Mr Allen is to write to Mr Honohan and senior officials will be asked to attend hearings in April. “The legal advice we have is that we have jurisdiction over this as it’s a value for money issue.”
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