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Council defends St Patrick’s Day US visits

Council defend US visit as ‘money well spent’

Delegation spending week in USA

Anton McNulty

THE Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council has defended a decision to send a four person delegation for a week to the United States for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations by saying it will be ‘money well spent’.
The delegation led by Cathaoirleach, Councillor Austin Francis O’Malley, travelled to the States on Saturday last and took part in Philadelphia’s St Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday. The delegation, which also included County Manager, Peter Hynes, along with Cllr Patsy O’Brien and Cllr Richard Finn, are due to visit Boston during the week before travelling onto Chicago for St Patrick’s Day itself.
The decision by Mayo County Council to send a delegation to the US for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations has come under increasing scrutiny after it was revealed recently that numerous jobs will be lost in the local authority in the coming months.
The annual St Patrick’s Day trips are described by the Council as ‘Promotional Visits’ and last year councillors each received €819.46 in paid expenses during their visit to Philadelphia, New York and Chicago.
County Secretary, John Condon told The Mayo News that the Council pay for flights and accommodation along with a ‘small allowance on top of that’ and said they always look for ‘value for money’.
“It doesn’t cost anymore money to send councillors to America than it does anyone else,” he said. “Everything is done to get the cheapest possible cost for the trip and we managed to do that.”
Cllr Austin F O’Malley rejected the criticisms of the trips to the US for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations and that their visit will be all about promoting Mayo.
“These trips are not junkets. I understand why people might think that but the reality is this trip is nothing of the sort and will be money well spent. It is all about promoting Mayo and trying to attract tourism and investment into the county. During this trip we will have access to a number of important people and wherever we go we will be promoting and selling our county. Networking with different groups is very important and we will meet everyone we can during this trip to promote and sell the county,” he said.
One of the items on the agenda for the coming week for the delegation will be the American launch of the mayo.ie website in Boston. The website is a Mayo County Council and Western Development Commission initiative which aims to bring together information on ‘All Things Mayo’ and give millions of Mayo people worldwide an opportunity to connect and interact with each other.
Speaking to The Mayo News from Philadelphia, Cllr O’Malley explained that the organisers of the different Irish events in Philadelphia were delighted to see Irish people coming over and were disappointed to hear that these trips were described as junkets.
“The Irish America community here in Philadelphia are delighted to have us here and are annoyed when they hear criticism of these trips at home. These trips are about drumming up tourism and already I have spoken to people who have asked me about the Greenway and how they would love to visit. It is amazing to hear the enthusiasm they have for Ireland. Even second and third generations say they would love to visit where their ancestors came from and it is up to us to help encourage them to visit and boost tourism at home,” he said.
The delegation are currently staying in the three diamond 432-room, Doubletree by Hilton, Hotel located in Philadelphia’s City Centre close to the iconic liberty bell.
When asked how much the overall trip will cost the Council, Mr Condon said that he did not have those figures at hand and will not know the full costs until the delegation returns. He also said he was unable to provide an itinerary of the delegations visit as it was ‘subject to change’.

HAVE YOUR SAY email antonmcnulty@mayonews.ie with your comments