Wednesday 17 October 2018

No plans to bring increased transparency on spending by President

Michael D Higgins is thought to have stayed at the five-star Beau Rivage Hotel in Geneva, which costs €3,000 a night
Michael D Higgins is thought to have stayed at the five-star Beau Rivage Hotel in Geneva, which costs €3,000 a night
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Government has "no plans" to change the law to bring increased transparency on spending by the Office of the President.

Áras an Uachtaraáin has stayed silent on claims President Michael D Higgins may have stayed in a €3,000-a-night hotel suite in the plush Beau-Rivage Hotel in Geneva.

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell has said he was contacted by a concerned citizen with claims President Higgins stayed in a high-end suite in the five-star hotel on a recent trip.

The Office of the President was given four weeks to clarify the claims but has not responded to a series of questions. It is still unclear if Mr Higgins stayed in the hotel.

Mr Higgins attended the RDS Horse Show yesterday but did not take questions from reporters.

With records relating to the presidency being exempt from Freedom of Information (FoI) laws, it's not possible for the public to see exactly how taxpayers' money is spent. The Department of Public Expenditure (DPER) said there were "no plans" to change this exemption.

It said: "Owing to the unique position of the President in the constitutional and political order, an exclusion has been a necessary part of the FoI regime since its first introduction."

FoI laws were introduced in 1997. They were extended in 2014 to include records relating to the Garda, Nama and the Central Bank, but the Office of the President was not included at that time.

The department pointed to remarks by former public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin to explain why the office is considered unique.

During the passage of the 2014 FoI law Mr Howlin said: "It has always been the tradition, and accepted in both Houses [Dáil and Seanad], that the President is above politics.

"In keeping with this independence I felt it would not be appropriate to cover the Office of the President under freedom of information."

Mr Howlin went on to say the finances of the Office of the Presidency are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and this meant spending was subject to public scrutiny.

Mr Higgins previously said he would be "perfectly happy" to sign legislation which would allow greater public scrutiny of the office under FoI.

Irish Independent

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