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Michael D Higgins to bank €1.75m in second term - but spending to come under scrutiny

  • PAC chairman says from next year a review of spending by the President will be 'routine'
  • Mr Higgins promised more transparency on expenditure during election campaign
  • President committed to releasing a report on the allowance, which is primarily used for State dinners, hospitality ad other social functions

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President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Dublin Castle as he was announced as the next president of Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Dublin Castle as he was announced as the next president of Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Dublin Castle as he was announced as the next president of Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

Michael D. Higgins is set to bank €1.75m during his second term as President.

The 77-year-old is expected to continue collecting a reduced annual salary of €249,000.

But his use of public money for hosting events in Áras an Uachtaráin will come under much more intense scrutiny.

The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Seán Fleming, told the Irish Independent that from next year a review of spending by the President will be "routine".

"In 2019, I will have a work programme that ensures every vote is dealt with by the PAC on a rolling basis," he said.

By then Mr Higgins will be expected to have released details of how a previously unaudited €317,000 allowance was used in the past year.

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Accountable: Seán Fleming says a review will be routine. Picture: Collins

Accountable: Seán Fleming says a review will be routine. Picture: Collins

Accountable: Seán Fleming says a review will be routine. Picture: Collins

During the election campaign, Mr Higgins promised more transparency on expenditure in a bid to overcome accusations that his term in office had not offered value for money.

He committed to releasing a report on the allowance, which is primarily used for State dinners, hospitality and other social functions.

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Michael D Higgins

Michael D Higgins

Michael D Higgins

However, queries to his office about when this will be made available went unanswered yesterday.

His first term in office cost at least €30m, including the President's salary of close to €1.75m.

Mr Higgins is entitled to a salary of €325,000 but has handed 23pc of this back to the State each year, bringing his annual income down to €249,000.

The bill for his personal staff is estimated at around €11m for 2011-2018, while travel expenses are thought to be in excess of €1.5m.

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Over the weekend, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated the Government may legislate so that taxpayers can see how the Áras spends money.

Asked whether the Office of the President could be subjected to Freedom of Information requests in the same way as Government departments are, Mr Varadkar replied: "That's something we're going to give some consideration to.

"Bear in mind the presidency is not accountable to the Oireachtas, that's in the Constitution, but that's not to say the presidency is not accountable to the public.

"So I think that's something we're going to consider. But what President Higgins has said is that he will ensure there is proper internal audit of what the President spends."

Routine

Mr Fleming said it was up to the President as to what details he released about the €317,000 allowance.

But he said the wider issue of spending will feature at future PAC meetings.

"There were fair comments made that the PAC hadn't looked at Áras an Uachtaráin over the years," he said. "It should become routine."

In the days before the election campaign began, the PAC heard that an audit committee set up to oversee spending at the Áras in 2014 hadn't met because the chairperson was indisposed. It has since convened.


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