Wednesday 20 November 2019

Michael D won't desert his official role as he goes on the presidential stump

Michael D Higgins shaking hands with Christopher Gunling in Ballinasloe. Photo: Hany Marzouk
Michael D Higgins shaking hands with Christopher Gunling in Ballinasloe. Photo: Hany Marzouk

Sarah Mac Donald

President Michael D Higgins will continue to carry out presidential duties for the next two-and-a-half weeks, a spokesman has confirmed to the Irish Independent.

The outgoing head of State has already annoyed some of his five opponents over this because they fear he is gaining an unfair advantage.

But Brendan Harbour of President Higgins's campaign office said a number of these duties had been pre-arranged months ago.

He added that the closer it got to the presidential poll on October 26, the fewer engagements Mr Higgins would undertake.

This meant the President would have to juggle his campaign for re-election while also acting as head of State until at least October 17.

Mr Harbour acknowledged it would be a "delicate balance" between presidential duties and campaigning for the election.

Gavin Duffy and his wife Orlaith Carmody with Rita O’Dea at the Ballinasloe horse fair. Photo: Hany Marzouk
Gavin Duffy and his wife Orlaith Carmody with Rita O’Dea at the Ballinasloe horse fair. Photo: Hany Marzouk

On the issue of President Higgins's €19,000-a-year pension from NUI Galway - which he has continued to draw down while in office - Mr Harbour said that "a substantial sum had been saved by the Exchequer over the years" because since taking office in 2011, Mr Higgins had not taken the TD and ministerial pensions to which he is entitled.

Pension

The college pension, he said, was built up as part of an occupational pension scheme for employees when he was a lecturer in sociology and politics at the college.

Separately, the head of communications at Áras an Uachtaráin, Hans Zomer, has dismissed reports the discretionary allowance was used to top up the President's advisers' pay. "Definitely not," he told the Irish Independent.

Sean Gallagher with his wife Trish and children Lucy (2) and Bobby (5) at the Pregnancy and Baby Fair at the RDS. Photo: Collins
Sean Gallagher with his wife Trish and children Lucy (2) and Bobby (5) at the Pregnancy and Baby Fair at the RDS. Photo: Collins

Last week, it emerged at the Public Accounts Committee that President Higgins had access to an annual allowance of €317,000 on top of his yearly six-figure salary.

The Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the committee the allowance was not audited or taxed.

Mr Harbour said all salaries of staff advisers and civil servants came out of the standard funding for the Office of the President.

He said that if Mr Higgins was re-elected he was open to providing more details about spending at the Áras.

According to Mr Harbour, President Higgins would provide more detail to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Irish Independent

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