President to take part in three debates before polling day

Higgins describes media reports about his allowance as ‘outrageous’

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina  on Grafton Street. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina on Grafton Street. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

President Michael D Higgins has described as “outrageous” media reports that he used part of a €317,000 allowance to “top up” the pay of a special adviser.

Mr Higgins said the claim, made in a Sunday newspaper, was slanderous and hurtful to the individual involved.

“I just want to say I found the suggestion that it was used for anything other than what the Act specified absolutely outrageous. The suggestion that I used it to top up an employee’s salary, that was simply wrong and it was not true,” he said.

He added: “I was really hurt for a member of my staff who was very unfairly treated and suggested that he had somehow or another benefited.

“That was an outrageous slanderous comment to make.”

He again maintained the allowance was spent only for the purposes for which it was intended – largely to host events at Áras an Uachtaráin – and that there would be a balance of unspent monies from this allowance which he would return to the exchequer at the end of his seven-year term.

“At the end of the period, the month of November, we will make a full return. Everything is receipted. There is a statement. There is stock-taking in relation to the kitchen.

“My predecessor [Mary McAleese] returned €457,000 [at the end of her 14 years].

“In exactly the same way at the end of the first term, I will be sending the balance straight back to the exchequer.”

He continued: “I can say that every single euro has been properly spent and every single euro will be accounted for.”

He said he would be open to a new mechanism to show spending in future but insisted he had done nothing differently from any of his predecessors.

Debates

The President was speaking during a walkabout of Grafton Street on Wednesday afternoon. He also disclosed that he would participate in three broadcast debates between now and polling day on October 26th.

They will be Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra, RTÉ Radio 1, on Saturday, October 13th; a debate with Pat Kenny on Virgin Media 1 on Wednesday, October 17th; and a PrimeTime debate on RTÉ 1 on Tuesday, October 23rd.

Mr Higgins also said he and the secretary general to the presidency, Art O’Leary, had sat down in July to confirm which presidential events he would attend during the course of the campaign. He said he had not reduced the number of events but had not agreed to new requests once he had decided to announce his candidacy.

“There are constraints on what I can do. There are also obligations.

“I intend to honour every obligation I made some time ago. We are not accepting new ones. Those that are on the diary at the moment came out of discussion with the secretary general of the president’s office and myself.

“They will stay. I will honour all of this.”

He confirmed that no new events were included from July but also said he had not reduced the number of public engagements.

Asked about DUP leader Arlene Foster’s comments that the Good Friday Agreement could be amended, Mr Higgins said the agreement was an important base for rights that could be availed of by all communities across Ireland.

Country’s mood

Asked to gauge the mood of the country at present, he said in 2011 there was a sense that there were “many people with disappointed expectations and many people in great distress”.

“One of the innovations was on State visits I would give a substantive address,” he said, saying that led to the series of speeches he made critiquing the economic model.

He said matters had improved since then but there were still great challenges, saying he had taken the opportunity of addressing the issues of equality, and the country was currently concerned about what was happening in housing.

“There is a debate about whether or not housing can be resolved by the market or not,” he said, adding that he would address this issue within the limits of his office.