Public Accounts Committee chair defends presidential spending probe

The chair of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has rejected criticism of its planned meeting today about spending by the office of the President.

Seán Fleming has hit back at criticism from Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, a former member of the PAC, over its controversial meeting with the secretary general of the Government, Martin Fraser.

Mr Fraser has said the committee’s desire to examine spending by the President is unconstitutional, but committee members have dismissed concerns insisting their examination is 100% within their remit.

Mr Donohoe, speaking at Government Buildings, asked why this examination is happening now and if it is so important, why had the PAC not raised it before.

“The Government is of the view that dealing with this now raises issues in relation to the constitutional status of the President. So if the PAC felt so strongly about this matter, they could have dealt with it at any point in the past seven years or deal with it at any point after the next President is elected,” he said.

There were so many other matters that I raised when I was on the PAC, I had a pretty active and productive time there. If I was still there I think I would be saying that if this is a matter they felt so strongly about, perhaps they should have raised it earlier,” he said.

In response, Mr Fleming said that while the Constitution is clear that an individual President is not accountable in any way to the Oireachtas, the spending by his office is allocated by Government.

About Mr Donohoe’s comments, he said: “Interesting, he is saying he never dealt with it in his day.”

Mr Fleming said the examination is fully justified and while it will be limited, it will be a “useful exercise”.

This matter was raised with me during the summer and I have raised it at the earliest opportunity. The timing is tight but this is important that it is done.

Committee members were warned yesterday that Mr Fraser will not be providing an opening statement, as is the norm ahead of such meetings. He will instead speak from notes.

Mr Fraser, as secretary general to the Government, has raised significant concerns about the PAC’s desire to examine spending at the Áras.

“I believe your proposal to have a meeting on the issue appears to be unconstitutional and to undermine the principle of the political impartiality of the Civil Service,” Mr Fraser wrote in a letter to the PAC.

Mr Fraser said it would be “impossible not to breach this constitutional provision” were any members of the PAC or public servants “to ask or answer” questions on the issue of expenditure.

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