Belfast Telegraph

FitzGerald chastised over US gifts

Former finance minister Alan Dukes chastised then Taoiseach Garet FitzGerald over using taxpayer money to hand out gifts on overseas trips.

In his rebuke - revealed in confidential files - Mr Dukes refuses to pay for the largesse out of a "miscellaneous expenses" budget and orders the Taoiseach's office to pick up the bill themselves.

The dressing-down was sparked by Mr FitzGerald's visit to Washington in March 1983, the year before US President Ronald Reagan made his state visit to Ireland.

Curiously, the Taoiseach gave Mr Reagan the same book about Irish plants on both occasions.

During the US trip, the Fine Gael leader claimed expenses for IR£347.36 - the equivalent of 944 euro today - to shower gifts on the president, his wife Nancy and other officials.

These included a sterling silver rosebud vase, cigars and a copy of An Irish Florilegium, a coffee-table tome of watercolours of wild and garden plants of Ireland, which cost IR£76 alone - or 207 euro nowadays.

But the claim was rejected by Mr Dukes, who referred "specifically" to the US trip and also ordered an end to extending such State generosity to officials in a diplomatic entourage.

In a letter to the Taoiseach's office in April 10, 1984, an official says the finance minister "does not accept" that expenses for giving gifts should come out of the general budget.

Furthermore, he demands an end to handing out presents to diplomatic staff overseas.

"It is part of the official duty of such staff to look after visiting persons and it is not considered appropriate to present them with gifts purchased out of public monies," his official writes.

When the Reagans came to Ireland that year, they were again given a copy of the plant book An Irish Florilegium, the files released into the National Archives under the 30-year-rule reveal.

The Taoiseach also presented them with a silver Tara Brooch, an Aran sweater, Donegal, Avoca and Cushendale rugs as well as the apparently obligatory Waterford Crystal.

The cost to the taxpayer was IR£1,036.45 - or the equivalent of 2,817 euro now.

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