Thursday 20 June 2019

Revealed: Michael D Higgins' spending during first term as President

ARAS OFFICE: President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Mark Condren
ARAS OFFICE: President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Mark Condren
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 is used have today been released for the first time.

They reveal Mr Higgins spent €186,000 “representing Ireland abroad” between 2012 and 2018.

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

The President refused to publish the figures during October’s election claiming they would take time to compile.

Today, his office published a 51-page document outlining his work, foreign travel and hosting responsibilities during his term.

The section on ‘Finances and Governance’ takes up just three pages.

It 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 100 birthday.

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

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 today says it has been used to cover the costs of 1,584 separate in-house events, including State dinner and garden parties.

In total Áras an Uachtarain 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 has been under budget for each of the seven years of President 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.

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

While he said there is 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."

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