Wednesday 23 January 2019

President reveals spending habits, including €1.7m on food and entertainment for parties

Welcome: President Higgins and his wife Sabina with Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan at Áras an Uachtaráin in July. Photo: Andrew Parsons/Getty
Welcome: President Higgins and his wife Sabina with Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan at Áras an Uachtaráin in July. Photo: Andrew Parsons/Getty
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

President Michael D Higgins spent more than €1.7m on food, beverages, entertainment and associated costs during his first term in office.

On the back of calls for more transparency from Áras An Uachtaráin, figures showing how taxpayers' money was used have been released for the first time.

His office released a 51-page document outlining his work, foreign travel and hosting responsibilities during his first seven-year term.

It includes 74 photographs, as well as quotes. The section on 'Finances and Governance' takes up just three pages.

The President refused to publish the figures during October's election, claiming they would take time to compile. They now reveal Mr Higgins spent €186,000 "representing Ireland abroad" between 2012 and 2018.

Another €40,000 went on books, research and stationery.

The report notes that last year the direct cost of the Office of the Presidency was €3.6m. Of this, €1.67m (46pc) covered staff costs for 27 people. Another €1.07m (30pc) was used for the 'Centenarian Bounty', paid to Irish citizens on their 100th birthday.

Indirect costs, including OPW staff, gardaí and foreign travel, totalled just over €5m.

The figure includes Mr Higgins's own salary of €249,000. He is entitled to €325,000 but has taken a voluntary reduction. Property maintenance in 2017 amounted to €1.28m.

This total indirect spend has risen from just under €4.5m during his first full year in office in 2012.

Fianna Fáil member of the Public Accounts Committee Marc MacSharry said the figures do not give a full picture.

While he said there was no suggestion that money has been misspent, he noted the public still can't find out about hotel costs, who benefited from gifts, or what type of entertainment was paid for.

"Are we talking boxes of biscuits or diamonds and pearls," he said. "Nobody wants the President staying in a hostel but a full breakdown is required and it should be audited."

One of the main points of controversy during the election campaign was a presidential allowance of €317,000 a year. Mr Higgins defended its existence, saying it was established in 1938 as a way of ensuring the office could operate independent of government. His statement says it was used to cover the costs of 1,584 separate in-house events, including State dinners and garden parties.

In total, Áras an Uachtaráin welcomed 140,000 people over the past seven years.

Overall, Mr Higgins reports an underspend of €238,443 from the allowance between 2011 and 2018. This money will be returned to the Exchequer by the end of the year.

The review shows that Voted Expenditure for the Office of the President was under budget for each of the seven years of Mr Higgins' first term.

"As part of the President's commitment to greater financial transparency, Áras an Uachtaráin confirmed that the process of establishing an independent committee to provide oversight of the 1938 Allowance is well advanced. The oversight committee will be in place from early next year and will meet regularly," a statement said.

Áras an Uachtaráin also confirmed that the Presidential Review will be published each year during President Higgins' second term.

Irish Independent

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