President Michael D Higgins spent more than €1.7m on food, beverages, hospitality, and entertainment during his first term in office, newly published figures reveal.
Áras an Uachtaráin has published a report which details, for the first time, how an annual €317,000 discretionary allowance was spent during President Higgins’ first term in office.
Mr Higgins came under pressure during the recent presidential campaign to make his expenses public and the allowance was dubbed a “slush fund” by Fianna Fáil TD Marc McSharry when the Public Accounts Committee examined presidential spending earlier this year.
Despite calls from politicians and other presidential candidates, Mr Higgins refused to publish details of how he used the allowance before the election. The allowance is given to support the president in the independent performance of his duties.
The allowance has been given each year to serving presidents on top of allocated budget for the Office of the President which last year amounted to more than €3.6m.
The document shows that the amount spent on travel and subsistence from the Office of the President budget almost doubled from €128,000 in 2012 to €240,000 last year.
On top of this, the Department of Foreign Affairs also paid €667,000 last year for “costs associated with president travel abroad”.
The report said the annual discretionary allowance, part of which was not spent over the seven years, was used to cover the costs of the 1,584 separate in-house events at the Áras including six State visits, 52 garden parties, 332 group tours and 22 afternoon tea receptions.
The 50-page ‘Presidency in Review, 2011-2018’ document also said that Mr Higgins will be returning a cumulative unspent amount of €238,443 from his first term to the Exchequer by the end of the year.
The so-called 1938 allowance was introduced 80 years ago and was increased to €317,000 a year in 1998 when Mary McAleese was in office. This amount has not changed since.
Mr Higgins is the first president to ever produce a breakdown of how this extra allowance is spent and costs have been published under a number of headings including “books, stationary and research”, “representing Ireland abroad” and “hospitality and entertaining”.
Mr Higgins spent €186,729.20 “representing Ireland abroad” between 2012 and 2018 while a €39,791.77 went on books, stationery and research in the same period.
Last year, Mr Higgins spent €125,589.83 on food and beverages while a further €73,682.70 was spent on hospitality and entertaining.
The President receives a discretionary allowance of €317,000 each year. In his first seven years in office, Michael D Higgins put these funds towards:
In 2018, President Higgins spent his allowance on: