President Higgins reveals background to €317k allowance

President Michael D Higgins has promised to provide a “formal statement” about spending at Áras an Uachtaráin, as he defended his unaudited annual allowance of €317,000.

Officially launching his campaign in Dublin, President Higgins said he had no difficulty answering questions about the allowance, which he said is spent on garden parties and tea parties as well as the hosting of foreign leaders.

“I have no difficulty in constructing a formal statement that can live within the Constitution and at the same time accept the independence of the president, whoever he or she is,” he said of the allowance.

He explained how the fund originated and how he has used it since taking office in 2011.

It is not an alleged fund, it is a fund that is there. It began in 1938 when Douglas Hyde was President and it was a much smaller amount. It has been changed over the years, particularly in 1998 when it reached the present figure of €317,000. That is the figure it has remained at and that is the figure today,” he said.

“It is associated with the independence of the President. The original idea was that the new President in 1938 would be able to define his time in Áras an Uachtaráin in his own way,” he added.

“I think how it is used today, about 20,000 people will come through the Áras. This year I think there were eight garden parties, it started with Bloomsday. We had a special one for the victims of the Magdalene laundries. Also as well as that, in the afternoons, we have tea parties for senior citizens. We have visiting heads of state, that cost comes out of that particular fund,” he said.

However, he said this is not a fund he has sought or requested.

“It is a fund I never see. It is something that is voted by the Oireachtas. And the Oireachtas could vote to end it if it saw fit. But the consequence of that is that you would have a severe restriction on hospitality and what you did in the Áras. I have no difficulty whatsoever, in finding a formal statement that can live within the principle of the Constitution,” he said.

Addressing the issue of transparency at the Áras, President Higgins said that he has since the summer moved to supply more information.

He indicated the comptroller and auditor general (C&AG) could play a role in that process.

I have no difficulty with the C&AG having a role in relation to the fund, it is allocated through the Oireachtas,” he said.

He said that the reason why the Freedom of Information Act, when it was drafted in 2014, did not extend to the presidency is because of concerns of interfering with Article 13 of the Constitution, which says the President is not accountable to the Oireachtas or the courts.

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