Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) Ireland runs a politicians for development programme which has paid for a number of senators and TDs to travel to Africa in recent years.
The VSO is the largest independent volunteer organisation in the world and has reached millions of people, particularly children in poor countries.
The politicians have worked on projects relating to the charity and, according to its executive director Malcolm Quigley, have been involved in helping to promote and raise the profile of programmes on the ground.
Last year, Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power travelled to Mozambique, helping to raise awareness about HIV and Aids and projects there linked to VSO.
Mr Quigley also said that Mayo TD Dara Calleary travelled to Mozambique and worked for VSO when he was a Fianna Fáil minister.
Sean Sherlock, a Labour TD, had also previously travelled to Mozambique with the charity and visited its HIV/Aids centre.
The SDLP’s Carmel Hanna visited VSO projects in Namibia with her partner but had fully reimbursed the charity for the partner’s flight.
The politicians for development programme was started in 2008. VSO said it operated “this volunteering programme to enable politicians to share their skills and parliamentary experience with civil society organisations and governments in developing countries”.
“It offers an opportunity for relevant Oireachtas members, MLAs from the Northern Irish Assembly, and British MPs to use their experience as parliamentarians to help with social, health, and municipal projects overseas. Since 2008, 11 Irish politicians and 38 British parliamentarians have participated.”
VSO Ireland yesterday defended the move to pay thousands of euro for flights in advance for Senator Fidelma Healy Eames and her husband to Rwanda as well as for a follow-up holiday to Kenya.
“Rwanda is a priority programme country for VSO with a major focus on education and teacher training,” it said in a statement.
“Last year, 51 VSO volunteer teachers trained 9,548 Rwandan teachers who went on to teach 509,036 children.”
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