Martin warns against ‘losing the plot’ on political travel

FOREIGN Affairs Minister Micheál Martin has warned against “losing the plot” when it comes to curtailing politicians’ travel on cost grounds.

It comes after Fine Gael senator Paschal Donohoe launched a blistering attack on Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue for the travel bills he incurred during his tenure as arts minister.

The bills, which related to 2006 and 2007, included hotel rooms costing €990 a night in Cannes, €7,591 on “airport pick-ups” during a two-day visit to London and €250 for water taxis in Venice. Mr O’Donoghue also used the Government jet in 2006 to fly back from the Cannes Film Festival to a constituency event in Kerry before flying onwards to Cardiff for the Heineken Cup final.

Mr Donohoe labelled Mr O’Donoghue “a waster” and said he could not understand why he had not resigned.

But Mr Martin defended Mr O’Donoghue, saying he was a “very good” Ceann Comhairle and had been a “very effective” minister for arts, sport and tourism.

Networking and travel were crucial parts of that portfolio, Mr Martin added, citing Cheltenham’s importance to the Irish equestrian industry as an example.

Mr Martin said it was fair that politicians’ travel bills were being scrutinised, adding the Government had already issued instructions to cut back on flight and hotel costs, as well reducing expenses.

But he cautioned against becoming “far too inward-looking”, saying Ireland depended on being “a globalised nation”.

“As a country that exports over 80% of everything we make, be it services or merchandise, we need to be known abroad, we need to have a presence abroad, and we need to push Ireland Inc.

“I just worry that we can lose the plot a bit in terms of the wider importance of travel — and it’s not easy either, by the way. There’s this notion that it’s all perks, but [in] my own experience, it’s constant, it’s 16-hour days.”

Mr Martin said Mr O’Donoghue was in a difficult position because of the historical precedent that Cinn Comhairle did not embroil themselves in political issues of the day.

Mr O’Donoghue would have to “weigh up the pros and cons” of making a public comment on the issue, the minister added.

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