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News

Minister's trans-Atlantic trip cost thousands more than first disclosed

John O'Dowd and Department of Education advisers visited Toronto and New York in 2013

A TRIP to the US and Canada by the education minister and a team of advisers cost thousands of pounds more than first disclosed.

John O'Dowd, his special adviser and senior department officials visited New York and Toronto in 2013.

The Irish News reported that while it cost the department about £3,000 to send the minister, the bill for his 'spad' topped £4,500.

It has now emerged that thousands of pounds of additional costs were omitted as the result of an administrative error by the Department of Education.

Overseas travel paid for by education authorities has been in the spotlight with details of massive costs emerging at a time when schools face savage cuts.

The Irish News has revealed before, that cash-strapped boards spent almost a quarter of a million pounds on foreign travel. The United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and US were among 21 different countries across four continents visited in a four-year period.

Savings of almost £200 million must be made across the education system in 2015/16. Casualties of cuts so far include language classes for primary pupils, a free book scheme for children, and school maintenance work.

The cost of the minister's 2013 trip to north America was detailed in response to an assembly question by the UUP's Sam Gardiner.

The response revealed that the visit cost slightly less than £14,000. The total cost for Mr O'Dowd's spad was reported as being £4,536 compared to £3,079 for the minister.

An additional £6,070 was spent on departmental officials who also travelled.

It is, so far, the only trip taken by the minister outside Ireland and Britain.

At the time, Mr O'Dowd said New York and Toronto both had "much to teach us about improving educational attainment".

The department has now admitted that "some costs had been omitted as a result of an administrative error". It also said that the minister's trip lasted four days, while three other people were away for five.

The revised total was £17,327, more than £3,000 more than had first been thought. The minister's costs accounted for £4,523 and his spad £5,107. Mr O'Dowd's private secretary's costs totalled £4,768.

"Four persons travelled, the minister, special adviser, private secretary and departmental head of planning and performance management," a department spokeswoman said.

"For processing reasons, shared costs were allocated to the private secretary. Other cost differences are mainly a result of differences in fight costs."

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