Reilly sings for his supper at the Aras party for cabinet ministers
THE age of austerity doesn't apply to our elected leaders, it seems.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, the Cabinet, junior ministers and spouses and partners enjoyed the hospitality of President Michael D Higgins at a private dinner in the Aras on Thursday night, it can be revealed.
Ministers and their wives were all sent "lovely invite cards" to the behind-closed-doors event, which was not included in the normal weekly schedule of events for officeholders. It began at 8pm and concluded shortly after midnight.
As well as being wined and dined at taxpayers' expense, our illustrious leaders were entertained by renowned Galway fiddle player Frankie Gavin and singer Michelle Lally. Gavin has played alongside Elvis Costello, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Rolling Stones and Stephane Grappelli.
During the "very relaxed and informal" dinner, the guests were treated to a chicken dish starter and a wild Irish salmon main course, according to sources.
After dinner, the guests retired for drinks and were entertained by junior education minister Ciaran Cannon, who "shocked people at how good a pianist he really is".
Health Minister James Reilly also took to the microphone to sing his regular party piece, Raglan Road, although not everyone present was enamoured with his singing abilities.
"I don't know why he bothers, he's a dreadful singer," said one source.
However, another source disagreed, saying Dr Reilly's rendition of the Patrick Kavanagh song made famous by Dubliner Luke Kelly was "bloody brilliant".
In a statement, a spokesman for President Higgins confirmed that he had invited the Cabinet, other ministers and their spouses to dinner "in keeping with established tradition".
Neither guest lists nor speeches are released by Aras an Uachtarain on such occasions, the Aras said.
As for the President, he "made a huge effort" with all the guests and was very welcoming to the wives and partners of the ministers before, during and after dinner.
The event was not featured in the weekly schedule of events for ministers and ministers of State, which is circulated each Monday by Mr Kenny's department.
President Higgins has recently attracted some controversy and some praise for his outspoken views on the failures of European institutions to adequately address the needs of citizens since the start of the European crisis.
He later insisted that he was "perfectly aware" of the limitations of his largely ceremonial post.
To facilitate that post, the President is granted a huge annual "personal allowance". This amounted to €317,434 in 2011, the latest figures available. The purpose of the allowance is to enable him to host events and entertain guests at the Aras and cover the costs of travel.
However, since taking office in 2011, President Higgins took a voluntary pay cut of €76,493 or 23.5 per cent to bring his salary down to €249,014, in line with the reduced figure for future holders of the office.