Áras publishes details of spending by Higgins during first term

Food and beverages is the most expensive element of events, costing €125,589 in 2018

The spending report:  ‘The Presidency in review, 2011-2018,’  said an unspent portion of the €317,000 annual  allowance  - a cumulative €238,443 -  will be returned to the exchequer. Photograph: PA

The spending report: ‘The Presidency in review, 2011-2018,’ said an unspent portion of the €317,000 annual allowance - a cumulative €238,443 - will be returned to the exchequer. Photograph: PA

 

Áras an Uachtaráin has published a breakdown of how an annual €317,000 allowance to President Michael D Higgins has been spent since he first took office.

The Áras on Thursday published a document called ‘The Presidency in review, 2011-2018’ and said an unspent portion of the allowance - a cumulative €238,443 - from Mr Higgins’s first term will be returned to the exchequer.

Mr Higgins, who was sworn in for a second seven-year term last month, came under pressure in the recent presidential election over the allowance.

The allowance was established in 1938 to support the President in the performance of their duties, and was set at its current rate under the presidency of Mary McAleese.

The amount of the allowance returned by Mr Higgins is broadly in line with Mrs McAleese, who returned €500,000 of the funds she did not use during her two terms.

The breakdown of how the allowance was spent by Mr Higgins has been published under a number of headings: Áras in-house events, foreign travel representing the country and “books, stationery and research”.

The first heading - events in Áras an Uachtaráin - is further broken down into three sub headings: food and beverages, hospitality and entertaining - such as entertainer’s fees - and “other”, such as “transport, gifts and related costs”.

The total amount spent on in-house events was €301,748 for 2012; €226,932 for 2013; €238,979 for 2014; €252,390 for 2015; €269,818 for 2016; €251,411 for 2017 and €206,974 for the first ten months of 2018.

Food and beverages was consistently the most expensive element of events, costing between €164,873 for 2012 and €125,589 for 2018.

Hospitality and entertaining cost between €98,644 in 2016 and €71,603 in 2013, while “other” costs ranged between €40,381 for 2012 and €7,701 for 2018.

The highest spending on foreign trips was in 2014, with an outlay of €77,440. That year President Higgins undertook a state visit to China and also visited Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa. Aside from that year, spending on foreign travel varied between €23,186 in 2017 and €12,492 in 2018.

Spending on books, stationery and research ranged between €7,242 in 2013 and €4,288 in 2012.

“As part of the President’s commitment to greater financial transparency, Áras an Uachtaráin confirmed that the process of establishing an independent committee to provide oversight of the 1938 Allowance is well advanced,” an accompanying statement said.

“The oversight committee will be in place from early next year and will meet regularly.

“Áras an Uachtaráin also confirmed that the Presidential Review will be published each year during President Higgins’ second term.

The document also detailed the direct costs of running Arás an Uachtaráin between 2012 and 2017. The highest cost came in 2017, with a total spend of €3.6 million on the office of the presidency.

The total cost of direct spending comprised salaries and allowances; travel and subsistence; training, development and ICT investment; post and communications; office machinery and supplies and the centenarian bounty, which sees people who reach the age of 100 receive a letter of congratulations and €2,540 from the President.

The tradition was started by Douglas Hyde in 1940 and also applies to Irish citizens born on the island but who are living outside the State.

The highest spend of the direct funding for the office on travel and subsistence was in 2017, with a total of €240,000.

On top of the direct funding, the presidency is also supported by spending from government departments and state agencies. Funding from these “allied services” was €4.4 million in 2012 and €5 million in 2017.

While the report says “the provision of these allied services are matters for the relevant departments and agencies”, an overall breakdown is provided for 2017.

The Office of Public Works provided €800,000 in staffing costs, €1.28 million in property maintenance and €182,000 in electricity and gas. An Garda Síochána spent €197,000 on transport costs, such as drivers fuel and maintenance of vehicles.

The Department of Defence spent €428,000 on “Defence Forces personnel attached to Áras an Uachtaráin” and the Department of Foreign Affairs spent €667,000 on overseas travel.

The allowance, the President’s salary and pensions for former presidents cost €894,000 from a “central fund”.

In addition, €20,000 came from the Minister for Finance, €564,000 for pensions and retirement allowances and €4,000 from the national shared services office.