herald

Saturday 19 October 2019

Michael D spent €1.7m on food, drink and entertainment... plus €40k on books during first term

The President spent €40,000 on books and stationery. Photo: Damien Eagers
The President spent €40,000 on books and stationery. Photo: Damien Eagers

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 Aras an Uachtarain, figures have been released showing how taxpayers' money is used.

The President's office has released a 51-page document outlining Mr Higgins's work, foreign travel and hosting responsibilities during his term.

The section titled Finances and Governance covers just three pages.

Mr Higgins had refused to publish the figures during October's presidential election, claiming they would take time to compile.

They show the President spent €186,000 "representing Ireland abroad" between 2012 and 2018. Another €40,000 went on books, research and stationery.

The report notes that last year, the direct cost of the Office of the Presidency was €3.6m. Of this, €1.67m was used to pay 27 staff and €1.07m was used for the Centenarian Bounty, paid to citizens on their 100 birthday.

Indirect costs, including Office of Public Works staff, gardai and foreign travel, totalled just over €5m, up from €4.5m in 2012.

The figure includes Mr Higgins's salary of €249,000 (he is entitled to €325,000, but has taken a voluntary reduction).

Property maintenance in 2017 amounted to €1.28m.

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 said it had been used to cover the costs of 1,584 separate in-house events, including State dinners and garden parties.

In total, Aras an Uachtarain welcomed 140,000 people over the past seven years.

Exchequer

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 Mr Higgins's first term.

"As part of the President's commitment to greater financial transparency, Aras an Uachtarain 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," said a statement.

Aras an Uachtarain confirmed the Presidential Review will be published each year during President Higgins's second term.

The cost of the presidency featured heavily during the election campaign, with Mr Higgins describing himself as "hurt" by some of the claims being made.

He insisted that "every single euro is properly spent", and he committed to "more transparency going forward".

Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry, who is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said the figures did not give a full picture. He said there was no suggestion that money has been misspent, but noted the public still cannot 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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