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 Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Ken Foxe news@mailon­sun­day.ie

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:

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