Robinson spends three times more on US visit

First Minister Peter Robinson spent more than three times as much on air fares to the United States over St Patrick’s Day last year than Deputy First minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr Robinson spent £22,931.47 on travel expenses during a trip to America for an investment conference and the traditional St Patrick’s Day visit to the White House in 2010, while Martin McGuinness spent £6,437 on the same visit - a difference of £16,494.47.

The First Minister, who was reappointed to the top spot in the Assembly yesterday at the first meeting following last week’s Assembly election, was accompanied on the official visit by a special adviser and private secretary and flew business class on a flexible return ticket.

The Deputy First Minister was also accompanied by a special adviser and a private secretary but, while he flew business class on the transatlantic flight, he flew economy class on the internal flights during the visit.

During the visit the Executive pair met US President Barrack Obama at the White House in Washington, as well as leading figures in the Irish American business community at a major investment conference in Chicago.

The purpose of the visit was to encourage American firms to invest in the North in order to help stimulate the economy and create employment here. Both men described the visit as productive after their return.

The figure was obtained through a Freedom of Information request made by the Derry Journal.. The initial request was made in July 2010 but the information, which should be released within 20 working days of acknowledgment of receipt of the request, was only released on Thursday May 5th, the day of the Assembly election.

Repeated inquiries were made about the status of the Freedom of Information request but officials from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister said it was awaiting clearance.

A formal complaint was lodged with the Assembly over the delay in the processing of the application. A spokesperson for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister was asked for an explanation of the difference between Mr Robinson’s and Mr McGuinness’ travel expenses but at the time of going to press no reply had been received.

The figures covered the eleven month period between August 2009 and July 2010 and also included details of visits to London, Boston, Jersey and Guernsey.

Many of the visits to London included meetings with the Prime Minister at Downing Street to discuss the block grant given to the Executive by the Treasury.

On a number of the visits which were made by both men, Mr McGuinness spent more than Mr Robinson on travel expenses but the difference was not as great as the US visit in March 2010.