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Government Waste: Just five visiting dignitaries stayed at Farmleigh last year

Thursday January 10th, from Alison Healy in The Irish Times:

The State mansion Farmleigh was used to accommodate five visiting heads of state or dignitaries and their entourages last year. This compares with seven dignitaries in 2006 – the largest number of VIPs to stay at the house since it was refurbished and opened by the Government in July 2001.

One of the main reasons cited by the Government for the purchase of the former Guinness estate was that it would be the premier guest facility for visiting heads of state and other guests of the nation.

While a small number of visiting dignitaries used the house last year, 2007 was the busiest year to date for overall visitor numbers.

The OPW estimates that some 300,000 members of the public visited the estate in 2007 to attend a wide range of events or just to see the estate. This compares with 277,005 visitors in 2006 and 180,487 in 2005.

The Christmas programme of events attracted 10,000 people a day on each weekend in December. The farmers markets and children’s events have also been very popular. Farmleigh is now closed to the public but is expected to re-open in mid-March.

The first head of state to stay at Farmleigh last year was the president of Poland, Lech Kaczyñski. He paid a state visit to Ireland with his wife Maria in February. The president of Slovakia, Ivan Gasparovic, stayed at the mansion in March with his wife Silvia. They were on a four-day visit to the State.

In June, former US president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn were guests at Farmleigh. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was the main speaker at a human rights conference in Croke Park, organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In October, King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium stayed at Farmleigh during their three-day visit.

The last dignitaries to stay at Farmleigh in 2007 were the president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, and her husband, Dr Pentti Arajarvi. They paid a three-day visit to Ireland in November.

The Government bought the estate from the Guinness family for €29.2 million in 1999 and spent €23 million refurbishing it.

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