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