Belfast Telegraph

Three-day US visit for £8,000 was the right thing to do, insists Assemblyman

By Adrian Rutherford

An Assembly Member has said it would have been “negligent” not to travel to the United States on a trip which cost the taxpayer nearly £8,000.

Alban Maginness visited Washington for a major US economic conference with an official in October 2010. The three-day trip cost £7,994, including £6,278 for business class flights.

But Mr Maginness, who chairs the enterprise committee at Stormont, said the visit was value for money.

“I was invited by the US Secretary of State to attend the economic conference which was organised by the American government in co-operation with the Executive,” he said.

“It would have been absolutely negligent on the part of myself if I hadn’t accepted that invitation,” he said.

“I think that what we did in the United States was very productive and I have no doubt it was the right thing to do. Indeed, it would have been a dereliction of my public duty not to attend.”

On the decision to travel by business class, Mr Maginness said it was essential to prepare for a demanding trip.

“If you’re going to do the job properly, in terms of a transatlantic flight, I think you should go business class in order to be prepared for the rigours ahead,” he added.

“This is hard work, it’s not easy, it’s not a freebie.

“You aren’t there for a holiday or to relax, you are there to conduct intensive negotiations with people who are interested in investing in Northern Ireland.”

The SDLP MLA’s visit was one of a series of trips made by MLAs serving on Stormont committees and their staff during a two-year period, costing nearly £70,000.

Details were released by the Northern Ireland Assembly after a Freedom of Information request.

Mr Maginness also travelled to Brussels and Frankfurt in May 2010 along with fellow DETI committee members Paul Butler, Leslie Cree, Alasdair McDonnell and Gerry McHugh, plus three staff, at a cost of £7,904.

A group of six MLAs participating in an inquiry examining young people not in employment, education or training were booked into the five-star Hotel Missoni in Edinburgh in May 2010.

The hotel is described as “a new kind of luxury for the 21st century” on its website. Its “special, stand-out touches” include luxury sheets, bathrobes and designer products, iPod docks, LCD TVs “and many other truly desirable, modern indulgences”.

The trip was attended by Dolores Kelly, Sue Ramsey, Anna Lo, Robert Coulter, Pat Ramsey and Peter Weir and cost £4,450.

Hotel Missoni was also used in October 2011 during a trip by OFMDFM committee members to Edinburgh and Brussels. MLAs who travelled on this visit included Tom Elliott, Mike Nesbitt, Francie Molloy, Jimmy Spratt and Chris Lyttle.

The group stayed at the Hotel Sofitel in Belgium. Its website states it is “a truly elegant and luxury five-star hotel”.

Meanwhile, Mr Elliott and Alliance MLA Stephen Farry travelled to Washington and Boston in March 2011 at a cost of £4,681.

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