Áras denies staff rift after president’s advisor Van Lieshout quits

Mary Van Lieshout: Was the President's special adviser

Senior figures have hit back at claims key Áras staff members are having their access to President Michael D Higgins blocked by an aide.

An Áras source has insisted that the sudden resignation of the president’s special adviser, Mary Van Lieshout, was not linked to the role of Mr Higgins’s executive assistant, Kevin McCarthy.

Reports that Ms Van Lieshout quit her €103,471-a-year post halfway through her three-year contract due to having to go through Mr McCarthy to gain access to the head of state have raised political eyebrows.

Gemma Hussey, a former Fine Gael minister tweeted: “What on earth is going on in the Áras?”, after reports of rifts between the president’s senior staff.

The claims have focused on the president’s working relationship with his core team of aides and advisers and have provoked concern within the Áras.

A source close to Mr Higgins said: “The initial allegations are without foundation.

“Saying that Kevin McCarthy blocked access to the president is absolutely untrue. Meetings with the president are arranged with his private secretary. No one has any problem having access to the president in the Áras.”

Áras officials would not comment on the reasons for Ms Lieshout’s resignation, stating only that she had taken up a post in a non- governmental organisation.

Mr Higgins’s spokesperson said: “President Higgins has full confidence in all his staff.”

Mr McCarthy was the only member of Mr Higgins’s election campaign team to be given an Áras post after he was elected head of state in Oct 2011.

The West Cork man, who has a degree in public administration and is the cousin, and former aide to Labour TD Michael McCarthy, worked as chauffeur for Mr Higgins during the presidential race.

American-born Ms Van Lieshout was the president’s most senior aide before her departure to take up a post as monitoring and evaluation adviser with Goal.

She has a background in the NGO sector and was previously head of research and standards development with the National Disability Authority.

Ms Van Lieshout did not receive a severance payment, the Department of Finance said.


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