President's close aide 'not living in Aras an Uachtarain'
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins's close aide Kevin McCarthy is not living in Aras an Uachtarain, a spokesman for the president has said.
The Aras has been forced to clarify Mr McCarthy's living arrangements after a Sunday newspaper stated that he has lived there since early in the presidency.
The newspaper raised questions about whether such accommodation amounted to a taxable benefit-in-kind.
Mr McCarthy was at the centre of controversy late last year after it emerged that an advisor to the President, Mary van Lieshout, quit amid reported tensions.
Sources say these tensions stemmed from the level of access Mr McCarthy has to the President.
Ms van Lieshout, who was on a salary of €103,000, was replaced by penal reform expert Liam Herrick. A Sunday newspaper yesterday reported that Mr McCarthy, who is executive assistant to the president, has been living in the Aras and stated the president's office had declined to say if his accommodation amounted to a taxable benefit-in-kind. It was claimed that some of Mr McCarthy's relatives have stayed there on occasions.
But in a statement to the Irish Independent, a spokesman for the president said that only the aide-de- camp and security staff live at the Aras.
"Staff such as the aide-de-camp on duty and security staff stay at Aras an Uachtarain, as required," the spokesman said.
"Guests of President Higgins and his family also visit and stay at their home. No member of Aras an Uachtarain staff resides at the Aras and all have private residential addresses in Dublin and the surrounding areas," he added.
The spokesman asked this newspaper to clarify that the position held by Mr McCarthy has existed during two previous presidencies.
He said that it is not therefore, a "newly created appointment".
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding the Higgins's association with jailed activist Margaretta D'Arcy has continued after her son joined calls for a pardon.
Finn Ardin has made the request on behalf of his mother – a move that will put more pressure on the president and his wife.
Ms D'Arcy has spent the past 11 days in Limerick Prison after being jailed for three months for trespassing on the Shannon Airport runway. It emerged last week that the 79-year-old was visited in prison by her long-term friend Sabina Higgins.
The visit was described as a "private and personal matter" by Mr Higgins.
Mr Ardin last night called for his mother to be issued with a presidential pardon.
"I have spoken to her about the issue of a pardon. I would absolutely welcome a pardon to be issued to my mother. It should definitely be done. We want her to come out," he told the Irish Independent.
The president will only be in a position to issue the pardon at the request of the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. A spokesman for the minister could not provide a comment.