Sunday 26 February 2017

Rivals left with hefty bills as Higgins joins top-paid ranks

John Drennan

John Drennan

The defeated candidates will be looking with some envy at the rather impressive terms and conditions that new President Michael D Higgins will enjoy over the next seven years.

In the aftermath of the campaign, candidates such as Mary Davis, Dana and David Norris are experiencing a serious fiscal hangover as the implications of not winning enough votes to secure a refund of their election expenses sink in.

It is believed Mary Davis spent over €300,000 on her campaign whilst Mr Norris invested all of his savings and took out a loan to fund his quixotic bid for the Aras.

Their spending was dwarfed by that of Gay Mitchell who spent over €700,000 and secured the votes of 6.4 per cent of the electorate. Mr Mitchell's costs will be covered, however, by a less than happy Fine Gael whilst the expenses of Sean Gallagher and Martin McGuinness, up to a threshold of €200,000 will be met by the taxpayer.

In contrast, Michael D Higgins is looking at a very pleasant fiscal vista. Under current legislation the President's salary, which is constitutionally protected by Article 12.11.3, is set at the same rate of emolument as that of the Chief Justice, plus 10 per cent.

In a recent reply to a series of Dail questions by FG's Eoghan Murphy and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin noted the current "personal remuneration of the President is set at €325,507".

Under legislation the President also receives an allowance "related to the office of 317,434'' a year in a package that costs the taxpayer more than €4.5m.

However, the Sunday Independent has learnt that, in one of his first acts, Michael D Higgins plans to forego more than half-a-million euro in salary and expenses.

Under current legislation, in line with "the Government's stated intention to reduce the salary of the judiciary'', Mr Howlin intends to reduce the salary of the President to €249,014 a year.

Legal sources, however, told the Sunday Independent the legislation would not be applicable to Michael D Higgins unless backed up by yet another constitutional referendum. But the Sunday Independent has learnt that it is his intention to voluntarily comply with the salary scale set out by his former Labour colleague.

One source noted "legally he is entitled to take it [the €325,507 salary] but it is his intention to not do that''.

Higgins, in voluntarily forfeiting a section of his salary, would be following the precedent set by Mary McAleese who last year voluntarily surrendered €65,102 of her salary.

Sunday Independent

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