€37,000 spent on mobile phone contract at Áras an Uachtaráin

 €37,000 spent on mobile phone contract at Áras an Uachtaráin

Over €37,000 was spent on a mobile phone contract at Áras an Uachtaráin, the Public Accounts Committee has been told.

Department of Taoiseach secretary general Martin Fraser yesterday confirmed the spend and explained staff on the grounds in Phoenix Park had problems with getting a signal on their devices as there was only one mobile phone network.

A mobile phone “framework”, he said, was acquired to improve phone signals and the resulting cost was over €37,000.

While a number of TDs quizzed officials about the cost, Mr Fraser said he was not directly in charge of spending for the independent office of the President. Addressing problems with signals was necessary all over the “whole place” in the Park, the department chief explained.

The President’s office said last night: “A tender comp was run last year for a new contract for phone services.”

Spending by President Michael D Higgins and his office came under the spotlight in the run-up to the presidential election last October.

Figures provided to PAC yesterday included €3.6m

allocated for the President’s office, spent out of a total €3.9m in 2017. There was a saving due to €294, 236 being handed back to the exchequer that year, committee members heard.

Spending by the office had also been audited. It followed criticism last year that the audit committee had not met. PAC heard yesterday the audit committee had now convened four times and was overseen by former secretary general of the Department of Community Affairs, Joe Hamill.

Other general funds paid out for the office of the president, Mr Fraser added, included pensions, the upkeep of the grounds, security, foreign travel and state visits. Expenses that would have been incurred, PAC heard, included in recent years presidential visits to Cuba, New Zealand, Australia, Colombia, the Vatican and Scotland among destinations.

PAC also discussed continuing bills for inquiries and tribunals many of which, while independent, came out of funding from the Department of Taoiseach.

Catherine Murphy TD inquired about ongoing costs for the Moriarty Tribunal which, so far, have amounted to over €63m.

Mr Fraser explained how there were legal fees that must be paid out for the tribunal, which had produced its report in 2011. The probe, which looked at payments to politicians as well as the awarding of the

State’s second mobile phone licence, was expected to cost another €10m for 2017 but came in at €6.5m while legal costs and other fees amounted to €2m last year.

Some legal claims were “very big”, explained Mr Fraser, and amounted to millions of euro.

Mr Fraser signalled that he was not happy to have ongoing tribunal costs coming out of the department’s spend. Asked by TDs if there was a “cut off point” for some inquiries, he responded that the Department of Taoiseach annually asked inquiries if or when they would conclude and they would simply respond they had not.

He also outlined how the IBRC inquiry, a judicial probe into the sale of SiteServ to a company controlled by businessman Denis O’Brien, was still delayed and would now cost “north” of €20m.

Meanwhile, the Government is expecting in March an update on the Cregan Inquiry, set up in 2015

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