Hig­gins: I’ll re­veal how I spent the Áras money

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Craig Hughes [email protected]­sun­day.ie

THE long-awaited re­port into the Pres­i­dent’s con­tro­ver­sial unau­dited €317,000 al­lowance will be pub­lished this week, an Áras an Uachtaráin spokesman has told the Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day.

It is 68 days since the Pres­i­dent promised to pro­vide an end-of-term state­ment in Novem­ber, de­tail­ing the ex­pen­di­ture from his unau­dited €317k-a-year al­lowance, which amounts to €2.2m over the seven years of his first term as Pres­i­dent.

Áras spend­ing dom­i­nated all of the pres­i­den­tial de­bates – as well as most of Mr Hig­gins’s in­ter­ac­tion with jour­nal­ists in the build-up to the elec­tion.

Run­ner-up Peter Casey, who gar­nered an im­pres­sive – and un­ex­pected – 23% of the poll, this week crit­i­cised Mr Hig­gins’s de­lay in pro­vid­ing the promised break­down. ‘It’s dis­grace­ful that he hasn’t kept his word but it’s not sur­pris­ing,’ Mr Casey told the MoS.

‘Tech­ni­cally I sup­pose he has an­other six years and 10 months to re­lease them since he only said he’d do it af­ter the elec­tion.

‘The essence of it was that he didn’t want them to be­come part of the de­bate – he didn’t want to make it an elec­tion is­sue – but the spirit of what he said was that he would re­lease them im­me­di­ately af­ter the elec­tion and I think that he’s clearly in breach of the spirit of what he said.’

When these com­ments were put to the Áras this week – af­ter the Novem­ber dead­line for the end-of­term re­port had passed – a spokesman de­clined to give a spe­cific time­line.

He said it takes ‘time and care to make changes’ to ar­range­ments in place since 1938, ad­ding that ‘work is un­der way and is be­ing pri­ori­tised, and the Áras ex­pects to be in a po­si­tion to have new ar­range­ments in the near fu­ture’.

How­ever, this week, the spokesman was singing a dif­fer­ent tune: ‘A re­port pro­vid­ing a com­pre­hen­sive over­view of the work and ex­pen­di­ture of the Of­fice of the Pres­i­dent of Ire­land over the Novem­ber 2011 to Novem­ber 2018 pe­riod will be pub­lished next week, when de­sign and trans­la­tion of the doc­u­ment have been fi­nalised.

‘This will be the first time in the 80-year his­tory of the pres­i­dency that such a re­port has been pub­lished,’ he added.

The day be­fore the cam­paign kicked off, it was re­vealed at the Dáil’s Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee that the Pres­i­dent has an an­nual al­lowance of €317,000, which is not sub­ject to au­dit. When Mr Hig­gins – who won re-elec­tion af­ter con­ced­ing that the pres­i­dency needed to be more trans­par­ent – launched his cam­paign he promised to pro­vide a ‘for­mal state­ment’ about spend­ing at Áras an Uachtaráin.

The fol­low­ing week, af­ter his op­po­nents chal­lenged his vague an­swers to the MoS about how he spent his al­lowance, a revved-up Pres­i­dent Hig­gins pledged to pub­lish de­tails of the spend­ing in Novem­ber.

He told re­porters on the cam­paign trail on Oc­to­ber 2: ‘At the end of the pe­riod – I’ll say in the month of Novem­ber – we’ll make a full re­turn on how ev­ery thing that is spent is re­ceipted.

‘There is in fact a state­ment that comes ev­ery week. There is a stock tak­ing that takes place in re­la­tion to the kitchen… in re­la­tion to ev­ery month.

‘And I’ve no prob­lem what­so­ever of when, at the end of the pe­riod – my pre­de­ces­sor, for ex­am­ple, af­ter 14 years re­turned I think it was €457,000 back to the Ex­che­quer – in ex­actly the same way… at the end of the first term I will be send­ing the bal­ance straight back to the ex­che­quer. Ev­ery sin­gle euro has been prop­erly spent, and ev­ery sin­gle euro will be ac­counted for.’

Asked why this couldn’t be done be­fore the end of the cam­paign, he said: ‘I doubt if it could be done in that amount of time. Ev­ery sin­gle penny that is spent is bal­anced on a monthly ba­sis. And we will put an end-of-term state­ment in place.’

De­spite ini­tially com­mit­ting to a Novem­ber dead­line on the cam­paign trail, the Pres­i­dent sub­se­quently aban­doned any com­mit­ment to a spe­cific date.

He told Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ ra­dio a week be­fore the elec­tion that he wanted a com­ment from the in­de­pen­dent au­dit com­mit­tee in­cluded in an an­nual re­port on the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Áras.

‘To have an in­de­pen­dent au­dit com­mit­tee that will look at what that €317,000 is for but it will do a con­tin­u­ous au­dit – they will visit three or four times a year. ’

Dur­ing the cam­paign, it emerged that the Depart­ment of the Taoiseach had failed to re­place the chair of an au­dit com­mit­tee more than 12 months af­ter he had died. A new chair was ap­pointed in Fe­bru­ary.

‘It’s dis­grace­ful that he hasn’t kept his word’ ‘Ev­ery sin­gle euro will be ac­counted for’

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