Friday 17 August 2018

Higgins hits out when questioned on presidency cost

President lashes out at 'sad' questions during visit to New York

President Michael D Higgins
President Michael D Higgins
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Michael D Higgins launched an angry defence of his government jet use and the cost of the Office of the President in a heated exchange at a press conference in New York.

In a tense stand-off with a Sunday Independent reporter, Mr Higgins furiously described questions about how his office spends taxpayers' money as "rather sad".

The President insisted he would be "perfectly happy" to sign legislation which would allow greater public scrutiny of the office under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Higgins made the remarks during his five-day trip to New York.

Earlier this month, the Sunday Independent reported that costs associated with the Office of the President are set to exceed €30m by the time Mr Higgins leaves office.

The sum was calculated using limited publicly available sources of information. Before publication, the Office of the President was given ample opportunity to respond.

This newspaper noted that the €30m figure includes an average of €1.2m per year paid in centenarians' bounty awards to people who have reached their 100th birthday.

Last Friday, Mr Higgins responded angrily when asked if he feels he has offered good value for taxpayers' money and if his office should come under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Higgins claimed half of the Office of the President's Budget is spent on the Centenarian Bounty. However, publicly available details shows less than third of the office's €3.6m budget last year was allocated for centenarian payments.

"The Centenarian Bounty is the responsibility of government. It comes into the Aras and it goes out with an appropriate letter to a centenarian from me.

"How right is it to say that this is Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins spending money?" he said

In relation to his use of the government jet, Mr Higgins said that Irish Air Corps pilots must "clock up" a certain number of hours to keep their flying licences.

He also said that using the jet "at the request of government" may allow him to attend six functions on a trip rather than three.

Mr Higgins said the Air Corps may decide not to stay overnight at a destination.

"They decide to fly back again and fly on again in the morning to pick me up as they make up their hours that they need in fact to keep their licence," he said.

Mr Higgins added: "I do feel in a way isn't it rather sad that you'd have to come to New York to ask me these questions.

"I think the people who represent the Irish American media deserve better," he said.

Mr Higgins also said he "absolutely" has the energy and capacity for another seven-year stint as President.

Sunday Independent

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