The Government has announced the schedule of ministerial visits abroad for St Patrick's Day, which include North America, India, Australia and a number of European countries.

The Government says the number of visits this year has been halved due to the economic situation, with all Departments instructed to keep costs to a minimum.

In a statement this afternoon, the Taoiseach said he knew questions were raised about the value of these trips, but that St Patrick's Day gives Ireland ‘a global platform that is the envy of practically every country in the world’.

Mr Cowen and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin are going to New York and Washington.

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan is going to London, while Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith is going to three German cities; Munich, Berlin and Dusseldorf.

Eamon O Cuiv, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, is going to Australia while four Ministers are also go to North America - Noel Dempsey, Minister for Transport to Toronto; Communications Minister Eamon Ryan to San Francisco and New York; Mary Hanafin, Minister of Social and Family Affairs, to Philadephia and Atlanta; and Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen to Houston.

The Attorney General is going to Seattle, while some Junior Ministers are also going abroad.