Saturday 24 August 2019

Michael D Higgins election campaign revealed: Tea cosies, hats and make-up among €367k spend

Popular: The President was returned to office with a landslide victory. PHOTO
Popular: The President was returned to office with a landslide victory. PHOTO FRANK MCGRATH
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

'Let's put the kettle on and drink tea to re-elect Michael D," went the almost catchy slogan for Michael 'Tea' Higgins day.

The Michael D Higgins tea cosy - which perpetuated the President's cuddly public persona - seemed ubiquitous during last year's election campaign.

It's surprising then, that the President's campaign bought just 10 of them from Dublin business Not Just Hats at a cost of €350.

Never mind - there was €1,697 spent on 350 Michael D Higgins mugs - if you wanted to continue the presidential theme with your cuppa.

And €975 was spent on the design of Michael Tea Day posters, a resource pack, bunting and doilies.

But all of that's a tiny fraction of the €367,338 in spending disclosed to the State's elections watchdog by the campaign that saw Mr Higgins safely ensconced in Áras an Uactaráin for another seven years.

The President spent more than any other candidate during the campaign, and was just one of two who got a reimbursement of any costs - the other being controversial Independent candidate Peter Casey - based on their share of the votes. Mr Higgins got the maximum of €200,000.

The Presidency is notoriously secretive, with the highest office in the land exempt from freedom of information laws.

But the campaign must disclose details of expenses to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) meaning the lid can be lifted on how the spending of hundreds of thousands of euro helped Mr Higgins to his landslide victory.

Records show spending on everything from a social media blitz (€23,805) to campaign workers (€38,438) and posters (€75,342).

That cost for the posters does not include polishing the image of the President.

"Grooming for Michael D Higgins for re-elect photo shoot" was carried out by make-up artist to the stars Aisling Eyre at a cost of €250.

Her website shows a client list that includes Westlife, Christina Aguilera, Bertie Ahern and former President Mary Robinson.

Around €4,700 was spent on the art direction, design and photography for images for the posters and a campaign car.

Just under €50,000 was spent on advertising.

Digital Revolutionaries - run by long-time Labour Party member Tom Duke - was paid €7,380 to manage the digital campaign. Around €6,300 was spent with Google, and a total of €9,820 on advertising on Facebook, with almost €4,300 of this covered by Fine Gael.

Spending on media advice came to €7,928 with €2,800 of this going to Young Communications, owned by Wally Young, who served as an adviser to Mr Higgins during his first term.

Mr Young worked free of charge as a volunteer for most of the 2018 campaign, according to the invoice.

RTÉ was paid €1,205 for the licensing of archive footage of Mr Higgins for inclusion in his online campaign.

It charges €400 per minute, though in one of the two transactions the campaign got a 50pc discount as it was only seeking seven seconds of material.

RTÉ said such a discount is offered to any licensee using less than 10 seconds.

There was €18,531 spent on "publicity" including €3,855 on "events" and €870 on "room hire".

And the bill for "wine for events" was put at €570.

The Higgins campaign did not respond to questions on when this was served, although it's understood there was wine at a number of events including one for the 'Women4MichaelD' group.

There was also €250 spent on canapes supplied by Tracy Rennie, a Michelin-trained gourmet chef for a "presidential campaign reception".

The records indicate that more than €45,000 was spent on rent for Mr Higgins's Lord Edward Street headquarters.

However, just €25,772 of this was listed as an election expense because part of the duration of the lease fell outside the official August 28 to October 26 election period as set out by Sipo.

The campaign also had a second temporary base of operations with a pop-up shop in the uber-trendy Fumbally Exchange.

It's there that much of the Michael D merchandise was on sale, though it was also available to buy online at

More than €11,000 was spent on 30,550 badges of varying designs and €6,300 was spent on 1,250 T-shirts.

Supporters who wanted to #KeepThePoet could splash out €100 for special prints inspired by Mr Higgins's 'Of Utopias' poem created by the artist Maser. Records show that 119 of these were sold.

€3,966 was paid to Maser, which represented a third of the proceeds of the sales.

Mr Higgins got donations totalling €41,300 from individuals that contributed more than €600 each, including €1,000 from U2 guitarist David 'The Edge' Evans.

The campaign did not respond to questions on the spending, how much was made from merchandise, and how much was received in donations less than €600.

It also did not respond to a question on how much the president spent from his personal resources, but it's been reported the sum, including loans, exceeded the €200,000 reimbursement sum.

A source close to the campaign said they do not think the spending was the deciding factor in the Mr Higgins' victory after he secured more than 820,000 votes, but also said the campaign couldn't be complacent.

Mr Higgins is said to have taken the campaign seriously and wanted to get his message for a second term out to the voting public.

The President was undeniably popular during the campaign, leading the field throughout.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the country, 10 woolly Michael D Higgins cosies are no doubt still keeping teapots warm.

Irish Independent

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