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Friday 24 November 2017

Higgins sticks to script and writes own speeches

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has decided not to hire a speechwriter -- because he is scripting all of his key speeches himself.

It also emerged that he had got the go-ahead from the Government to boost the salaries of two key staff -- and to hire an extra person.

But it is understood he has opted to manage without a dedicated speechwriter -- and has been busily composing speeches on his own.

That includes his speech about the Great Famine to Irish Americans in Boston last month -- which clocked in at 6,600 words. And he also wrote every word of his speech to the London School of Economics in February, which was a slightly shorter 4,700 words.

A source close to Mr Higgins said he was giving a number of speeches every day -- and wrote all of the major ones himself.

The salaries for President Higgins's special adviser, Mary Van Lieshout, and communications manager, Sarah Martin had to be approved by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin because they were higher than the original rates.

The planned rates for Ms Van Lieshout's job had been €80,051 but she was allowed to retain the €103,472 salary she earned as head of research and standards development with the National Disability Authority.

Ms Martin, a former press officer with RTE who speaks "fluent French and Spanish", had her salary raised from the planned rate of €61,966 to €75,934.

Services

It is understood that these arrangements mirror those of former President Mary McAleese, who employed a special adviser, Maura Grant, and a communications manager, Grainne Mooney. President Higgins is also retaining the services of Wally Young -- who was also employed by Mrs McAleese -- as a part-time media adviser.

But according to a Sunday newspaper, President Higgins has recruited an extra staff member on top of the normal staffing allocation. It was confirmed last night that person was an executive assistant who would help him with the administration of the office and the planning of his presidential visits.

The recruitment was allowed on the strict condition that the cost of the extra salary -- which was not available last night -- would be saved from the €3m budget for Aras an Uachtarain.

Upon taking office last November, President Higgins announced that he had permanently given up his entitlement to Oireachtas pensions, which he had built up through his years of service as a TD, senator and cabinet minister. He also agreed a voluntary 23pc pay cut which brought his salary from €325,000 to €250,000.

Ms McAleese had voluntarily brought her salary down to this level by the end of her term -- but her final pension of €160,000 per year is based on her old, pre-cut salary.

President Higgins's latest engagement will be hosting a lunch in Aras an Uachtarain today in honour of King Letsie III of Lesotho.

Irish Independent

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