herald

Sunday 20 October 2019

Presidential spending at the Aras revealed as report to be published

President Michael D Higgins was quizzed during the election. Pic: INM
President Michael D Higgins was quizzed during the election. Pic: INM

A highly anticipated report on Aras an Uachtarain spending is to be published this week.

The issue of presidential spending became a key election concern when it emerged that a €317,000 allowance to the Office of the President has not been subject to audit.

Details of the allowance were discussed by the Dail's powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) ahead of the election and were seized on by challengers to Michael D Higgins.

The allowance is used to cover expenses that are not covered in the budget, including costs related to events in the Aras such as State dinners.

Other questions about spending, including the President's use of the Government jet, also dominated the debate.

Campaign

During the campaign Mr Higgins pledged to publish details of the spending in a report on the activities of the Aras, but declined to do so before polling day as he did not want to appear to be politicising the office of the President.

It had been widely expected that the report would be published by the end of November.

However, a spokesperson for the President told a Sunday newspaper the report would be published this week once translation and design of the document have been finalised.

The spokesman pointed out that this is the first time in 80 years such a report will be furnished.

It is expected that the report will outline various activities and events held at the Aras, as well as detail about spending as it looks back at what has been spent since the President was first elected in November 2011.

Work was undertaken following the inauguration of Mr Higgins for a second term to put in place procedures for the report.

An audit committee was also set to be put in place.

However, defending the delay in publishing the details, a spokesman said "obviously it takes some time and care to make changes to an arrangement that has been in place since 1938, in a way that meets public expectations while also protecting the constitutional independence of the office of the President."

However, the Aras has declined repeatedly to confirm what the report will entail and the form it will take.

A spokesperson could not be reached for comment last night.

In recent days the PAC rejected criticism of the committee's decision to scrutinise presidential funding so close to the election.

The scrutiny was of the office and not of the President, according to the committee, who said they will be returning to the issue of presidential spending. During the recent campaign, various candidates raised the issue of spending during the debates ahead of the election.

Defended

Mr Higgins repeatedly defended the accounting processes in place in the Aras and insisted robust procedures were in place to ensure expenses were vouched.

"Every single euro has been properly spent and every single euro will be accounted for," he said during the campaign.

Some of the most tense moments of the campaign emerged when outsider candidate Peter Casey - who went on to poll second after a late surge - accused Mr Higgins of having his dog grooming bills paid for out of the public purse.

He also said the President had taken a private plane to fly from Geneva to Zurich to attend an event at the James Joyce Centre there.

The President repeatedly rejected the allegation about his dogs and it was later confirmed that he flew on commercial flights in relation to the Zurich event.

Mr Higgins described the list of charges made against him by Mr Casey as a "fantasy list".

Promoted articles

Entertainment News