Cork’s ex-mayor and his €2,700 taxpayer-funded audience with the Pope
Costly Rome visit came on top of two longer trips to the United States
THE former lord mayor of Cork flew to Rome for a ‘Papal audience’ earlier this year on a trip funded by the taxpayer. The total cost came to almost €2,700.
The trip was one of three international trips that Fianna Fáil’s Tony Fitzgerald made during his term in office, all three accompanied by his wife and paid for by taxpayers.
Then-Mayor Fitzgerald travelled with his wife Georgina to the Eternal City to meet Pope Francis and present him with a book of photography of Cork city and a hand-carved candleholder.
The candleholder, which can be seen in the photograph here, is inscribed: ‘To Pope Francis, From Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, Lord Mayor of Cork, Ireland’.
‘To Pope Francis, From Cllr Tony Fitzgerald’
The two-night trip – on which he was joined by the city council’s chief executive Ann Doherty – cost the council €1,963 in flights and accommodation, according to records. This comprised €777 for three return flights to Rome and €1,186 for two rooms for two nights at the four-star Starhotels Michelangelo in Rome.
The hotel – with its ‘cosmopolitan style, classical grandeur, and timeless appeal’ – is a short walk from the Vatican and St Peter’s Square.
Also paid for was €273 for an official dinner at the Ristorante The Dome and a €433 subsistence claim by the mayor, according to records released by the council.
These expenses bring the total bill for the taxpayer to €2,669.
Mr Fitzgerald said the trip was one of several he had taken during his mayoralty as part of his efforts to represent the city ‘locally, nationally, and internationally’.
He said: ‘My year was focused on supporting and visiting local communities, charity events, companies and groups, communities that support foreign direct investment, meeting our President, Taoiseach, ministers, ambassadors, heads of state, lord mayors, mayors, royal family – promoting Cork as a place to visit and live and work.
‘Visiting Rome and meeting Pope Francis and those at the Irish College was an example of that. As required, the trip was approved by council retrospectively on May 14 without any issue being made by the members… and without any issue being raised.’
The Rome trip ended up being scaled back, first because of a strike by air traffic controllers and later because of severe weather, according to council records.
On May 9, the mayor was greeted at the Vatican by Monsignor John Kennedy before a ceremony and an ‘engagement with Pope Francis, including exchange of gifts’.
Mr Fitzgerald then visited the Irish College.
The following day, he was given a walking tour of Rome.
An invitation email had said: ‘You must walk down the Via dei Condotti, where all the designer shops are located. You would want to have your chequebooks or cards ready if you shop here!’
The Rome trip in May was one of three international trips taken in quick succession by the former lord mayor. He also made two trips to the US. Mr Fitzgerald led a delegation of 13 councillors and staff to San Francisco in April. The trip, revealed in the Irish Mail on Sunday, ended up costing €50,000 and proved controversial locally.
The lord mayor had also travelled to the US earlier in the year when he visited the east coast on a nine-night trip. Again accompanied by his wife, their airfares for the trip came to €1,746, with another €980 spent on seven nights of hotel accommodation at the four-star Loews in Boston and the Affinia Shelburne in New York. Two nights’ accommodation were provided for free in Newport, Rhode Island, by the local tourism authority. Two officials from the local authority accompanied the mayor for the first three nights of the trip.
On his return, Mr Fitzgerald made a subsistence claim of €1,326 – four days in Boston at the rate of $168.25 per day and six days in New York at $159.25.
He said the eight-day trip had combined ‘three visits into one trip’ and had involved around 30 separate engagements. ‘Travelling on three different trips would not have been practical and would have incurred extra expenses,’ he said.
‘Have your chequebook ready if you shop here!’
Lord Mayor Tony Fitzgerald and his wife present a candleholder to the Pope; the Rome hotel, Starhotels Michelangelo, where they stayed meeting: