A caterer was at risk of going bankrupt after the government overspent on entertainment for European culture ministers visiting Ireland, archived documents have revealed.
Culture Ministers made a three-day visit during St Patrick’s Day week to mark the start of Dublin’s mandate as a European City of Culture in 1991.
In October of the same year, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, President of Iceland, the first democratically elected female head of state, visited the country.
Toward the end of the year, Taoiseach officials raised concerns about the state’s lavish spending on entertainment to colleagues, according to documents released in state documents.
Catherine Eddery wrote to Frank Murray expressing concern that spending on wine, gifts and meals exceeded the department’s annual allocation.
The day before the Icelandic president’s visit, Treasury official Simonetta Ryan sent a letter to the Treasury Protocol Division warning that cuts were needed.
The Prime Minister said on October 1 that the request for £30,000 in spending related to high-level visits was concerning because “every effort must be made to reduce entertainment spending”.
“We are concerned that £3,600 is proposed to be spent on discretionary items such as flowers at a time when voters are under intense pressure to comply with government cuts.”
In 1989, the Ministry of Finance sent a memo to all other ministries stating that “it is necessary to reiterate the need for the most economically stringent spending on entertainment for ministers and officials”.
The report said amounts in excess of the limit would only be authorized in “exceptional” circumstances and if approval for such excess spending was sought “substantially in advance”.
The archives reveal several letters from Mr Ryan responding to requests for spending on the national pastime, including £15,756 for a visit by the Canadian prime minister in July and £3,609 for a visit by US House of Commons Speaker Thomas Foley in September. has been done. .
Mr. Ryan passed on the sanctions with the condition that the funding not be exceeded, but the overspending still caused problems.
After the Icelandic president’s visit, Ms Eddery said an invoice of £12,025 was submitted by the caterer for the presidential dinner, but the Treasury “refused to process any further expenditure incurred by the department”.
This is because the annual limit of £110,000 has already been reached.
When the caterer’s representative was told that payment would not be made immediately, he “expressed his deep dissatisfaction and stated that if payment was not made immediately, the company would go bankrupt.”
The memo also said the state’s entertainment quota had been exceeded due to the £31,153.04 cost of hosting European Culture Ministers and others earlier this year.
“The section was not aware of this visit at the time the 1991 estimates were being prepared,” the department said.
The cost includes 25 gifts given to the delegation by Galway Irish Crystal worth a total of £2,063.18, a catalog of ‘Irish Treasures’ worth £373.75 and chauffeur services worth a total of £8,071.50. It was.
The trip began with a reception hosted by Secretary of State Maile Geoghegan-Quinn at Dublin Castle, which cost £8,400 to feed 1,200 people with finger food.
The dinners held later that day at the Berkeley Court Hotel cost £3,946.59, including £158.36 for liquor for 27 ministerial dinners and 17 official dinners.
The state dinner held the next day, March 16th, at Kilmainham Royal Infirmary for the Minister of Culture and his associates, cost £2,241.99.
The event, co-hosted by Mrs Geoghegan-Quinn and the Mayor of Dublin, included 52 meals worth £25.95 per plate and 32 meals worth £12.50 per plate.
In May, Ms Ryan warned the Department that the sanction for a £3,847 invoice related to the banquet was in “serious breach of limits” in terms of both the number of people and the amount spent per person.
“This should be brought to the attention of all parties involved in the organization of official entertainment, as it is necessary to obtain sanctions from the Ministry of Finance before spending in excess of established limits.”
£12,025 was requested for catering services for a state dinner hosted by President Mary Robinson at Dublin Castle on 2 October during the visit of the President of Iceland.
This included approximately 220 ‘presidential’ meals and £3,272 worth of pre- and post-meal drinks.
Separately, Findlaters’ wine cost £3,987.54, which was also an expense.
A government luncheon held the following day at Iveagh House, the headquarters of the Foreign Office, incurred an additional cost of £3,349.95.
This document can be viewed in the National Archives, file 2023/1/276.