Cork’s former mayor Tony Fitzgerald and the €2,750 taxpayer-funded trip to Rome for “audience” with Pope Francis

THE former Lord Mayor of Cork flew to Rome for a “Papal audience” on a trip funded by the taxpayer earlier this year.

Fianna Fáil’s Tony Fitzgerald travelled with his wife Georgina to the Eternal City to meet with Pope Francis where they gifted the Pontiff a book of photography of Cork City and a “personal present” of hand-carved candleholders.

The meeting with the Pope was arranged through the Cork and Ross Diocesan Office, according to Cork City Council.

The two-night trip – on which the city council’s chief executive Ann Doherty also travelled – ended up costing the council €1,963 in flights and accommodation, according to records.

This included €777 for three return flights to Rome and €1,186 for two rooms for two nights at the four-star Michelangelo in the Italian capital.

The hotel – with its “cosmopolitan style, classical grandeur, and timeless appeal” – is just a short stroll from the Vatican and St Peter’s Square.

Also paid for was a €273 bill for an official dinner at the Ristorante The Dome and a €433 subsistence claim by the mayor, according to records released by the council.

Mr Fitzgerald said the trip was one of several he had taken during his mayoralty as part of his efforts to represent the city “locally, nationally, and internationally”.

He said: “My year was focused on supporting and visiting local communities, charity events, companies and groups, communities that support foreign direct investment, meeting our President, Taoiseach, Ministers, Ambassadors, Heads of State, Lord Mayors, Mayors, Royal Family – promoting Cork as a place to visit and live … and work.

“Visiting Rome and meeting Pope Francis and those at the Irish College was an example of that. As required, the trip was approved by council retrospectively on the 14th May without any issue being made by the members … and without any issue being raised.”

The Rome trip ended up being scaled back, first because of a strike by air traffic controllers and later because of severe weather, according to council records.

On May 9, the mayor was greeted at the Vatican by Monsignor John Kennedy before a ceremony and an “engagement with Pope Francis, including exchange of gifts”.

Mr Fitzgerald visited the Irish College then where he met students from Cork, Irish ex-pats, and Monsignor Joe Murphy, head of protocol at the Vatican.

The following day, he was given a “walking tour” of Rome, which according to a suggested itinerary could include a visit to the Colosseum or some shopping.

An invitation email had said: “You must walk down the Via dei Condotti, where all the designer shops are located. You would want to have your chequebooks or cards ready, if you shop here!”

The Rome trip in May was one of three taken in quick succession by the former Lord Mayor. He also travelled to the United States in late February – to Newport, Boston, and New York – and to California in April.

Mr Fitzgerald led a delegation of thirteen councillors and staff to San Francisco in April. The trip, detailed here, ended up costing €50,000 and proved controversial locally.

The lord mayor had also travelled to the United States earlier in the year when he visited the east coast on a nine-night trip.

Again accompanied by his wife, their airfares for the trip cost €1,746 with another €980 spent on seven nights of hotel accommodation at the four-star Loews in Boston and the Affinia Shelburne in New York.

Two nights of accommodation were provided for free in Newport, Rhode Island by the local tourism authority. Two officials from the local authority accompanied the mayor for the first three nights of the trip.

On his return, Mr Fitzgerald made a subsistence claim of €1,326 – four days in Boston at the rate of US$168.25 per diem and six days in New York at US$159.25.

He said the eight day trip had combined “three visits into one trip” and had involved around thirty separate engagements over there.

“Travelling on three different trips would not have been practical and would have incurred extra expenses,” he said.

As well as promoting Cork in the region, he also visited Irish community members, met two city mayors, launched a public lecture series, attended a parade, paid his respects at the World Trade Centre, and attended an annual dinner dance of the Cork Association New York.