A FINE Gael MEP last night defended his decision to go on a three-day "study break" to a holiday island at taxpayers' expense.
But despite claiming the excursion is value for money and represents important work, the three-day break has nothing directly to do with Irish affairs or the constituents of Jim Higgins in Connacht-Ulster.
Amid cutbacks across all EU countries, the MEP last night blasted scrutiny of the €400,000 cost of the Madeira island trip as "all ************************e". Some 250 MEPs and officials have been taking part in the "study break" since Tuesday.
"That's all ************************e ... that's all ************************e if you don't mind me saying so. That's typical media bluster, you know. I don't share that at all," he told the Irish Independent.
And he claimed the three-day stay in a five-star hotel on the island represented value for money because of the "important work" taking place. "I haven't a clue what star it is. All I know is that it's a very good hotel, the accommodation is wonderful, the food is lovely. For people who work so hard, we're entitled to that. You don't expect us to stay in B&Bs, do you?"
MEPS are believed to be staying at two five-star hotels on the island -- the Pestana Carlton and the Pestana Casino. Earlier this year, Mr Higgins said he was prevented from surrendering his ministerial and Dail pensions because of a Circuit Court order relating to a "family law matter".
Mr Higgins' ministerial pension is €5,952, and his Dail pension is €54,890. This is on top of his MEP salary of €91,984. All four Fine Gael MEPs, who are part of the European People's Party (EPP), were entitled to attend this week's "study break".
However, Mr Higgins was the only one to attend the conference, which kicked-off on Tuesday. The trip is being paid for by the European taxpayer.
The EPP is by far the largest political group in the European Parliament, with 265 members. Fine Gael is one.
Madeira was chosen as a destination because of the catastrophic floods in 2009, Mr Higgins said.
MEPs were due to assess the damage yesterday afternoon, having discussed funds for global disasters, compensation and insurance in such situations. MEPS have also been dealing with the issues of internet access, search engines and social networks, he said.
Today, the MEPs will make "detailed policy decisions" on all issues covered since Tuesday.
Defending the trip, Mr Higgins claimed it was important to visit the "outermost regions" such as Madeira as they often feel detached from the mainland.
"I totally defend the rights of a political party to see at first hand what the situation is in relation to the outermost regions, islands and so on
," Mr Higgins said.
The Fine Gael MEP said it was up to each individual whether to attend. His colleagues Gay Mitchell, Mairead McGuinness and Sean Kelly declined the invitation.
Some 250 MEPs, 80 parliamentary assistants and 70 civil servants working for EPP went on the trip.