President must reimburse taxpayer for use of any publicly funded services during election: Sipo

Michael D Higgins must reimburse taxpayers for using publicly funded services, including cars, offices, or staff at Áras an Uachtaráin during his campaign for re-election, the State’s ethics watchdog has declared.

President must reimburse taxpayer for use of any publicly funded services during election: Sipo

President Michael D Higgins must reimburse taxpayers for using publicly funded services, including cars, offices, or staff at Áras an Uachtaráin during his campaign for re-election, the State’s ethics watchdog has declared.

Mr Higgins must also clearly differentiate where public funds are used to carry out his duties as an office holder and where those resources are used for electoral purposes.

Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) guidelines for the presidential race, obtained by the Irish Examiner, will be published this week. They come into play after the starting gun was yesterday fired for the race by the Government.

So far some 11 hopefuls are trying to get on the ballot paper for the October 26 election, in addition to Mr Higgins. Sean Gallagher, the 2011 runner-up, will join the race today.

Strict rules set out by Sipo for the race include a maximum spending limit for candidates of €750,000. Donations and expense guidelines have been specifically tweaked to take account of Mr Higgins’ intentions to seek a second term as an office holder.

Rules which will specifically apply to the incumbent include:

- Where publicly funded property, services, or facilities are used for the election, the cost must be reimbursed. Examples could include offices, stationary, telephones, staff time, and cars;

- The use of facilities or offices for electoral purposes, such as at Áras an Uachtaráin, is regarded as an election expense and will have to be reimbursed;

- Mr Higgins may be required to communicate with the electorate during the election period. Where costs are met from public funds, it is necessary to differentiate between the use of public resources in carrying out his duties and the use of public resources for electoral purposes;

- Where the President’s staff, including assistants, advisers, drivers, or others, are engaged in electoral purposes, this is regarded as an election expense. Staff who take annual leave and work voluntarily on the campaign will not be regarded as an election expense.

Sources close to Mr Higgins expect him to shortly organise an election team, which may include staff working with him taking leave. This could include a special funding committee, to keep campaigning at arm’s length from his role as President.

Restrictions on where publicly funded services are used are likely to see him keep a strict distance between his campaigning role and that of President in the weeks ahead.

Mr Higgins may not formally enter campaigning mode until towards the end of September.

Sipo confirmed that its draft guidelines for presidential elections were tweaked to take account of the incumbent or any candidate holding public office. Now that the Government has moved the order to hold the election on October 26, Sipo will publish the guidelines this week.

Other restrictions include a ban on foreign donations and the need for candidates to identify online contributions. Individual donations will also be capped at €1,000 while cash donations cannot be more than €200.

Meanwhile, businessman Sean Gallagher will today join the crowded race.

Mr Gallagher, who won over 500,000 first-preference votes in 2011, is expected to explain why he is having a second run for the Park.

Councils are expected to consider his nomination in the coming days, including when six local authorities consider pitches for the presidency next Monday.

13 hopefuls: And the runners are:

-President Michael D Higgins: Incumbent.

- Sean Gallagher: 2011 candidate, businessman.

- Gavin Duffy: Dragon and businessman.

- Joan Freeman: Senator and Pieta House founder.

- Kevin Sharkey: Artist.

- Sinn Féin candidate: TBC.

- Pádraig Ó Céidigh: Independent Senator.

- Gemma O’Doherty: journalist.

- Patrick Feeney: Former Aer Lingus employee.

- Marie Goretti Moylan: ex-civil servant.

- John Groarke Farmer.

- Jimmy Smyth: Musician.

- Sarah Louise Mulligan: Donald Trump supporter.

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