Higgins begins work on group to audit €317,000 allowance

President is expected to make scrutiny proposal to Government following inauguration

President Michael D Higgins ‘is committed to establishing an audit committee’, a spokesman said. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA

President Michael D Higgins ‘is committed to establishing an audit committee’, a spokesman said. Photograph: Martial Trezzini/EPA

 

President Michael D Higgins has begun consulting with advisers and staff on setting up an audit committee to scrutinise how an “additional” allowance of €317,000 is spent.

The President committed during the election campaign to provide a mechanism that would furnish complete information on the annual allowance, which is unaudited and has been available to all presidents since 1938 (and at the current level since 1998).

A spokesman said: “The President is committed to establishing an audit committee and is currently consulting on how best to achieve effective reporting on all the financial resources of the office of President.”

The President is expected to make the proposal to the Government following his inauguration for a second seven-year term in November.

The issue of the allowance was a dominant theme of the campaign with the President being subjected to questions about how it was spent in every interview and public appearance. He said the money is used for garden parties, State dinners and for the estimated 20,000 people who are invited to Áras an Uachtaráin each year.

Precedent

During the campaign, Mr Higgins said he would not disclose the full details until November, because it would create a precedent for future holders of the office.

“If I were to make a change now I would be introducing a change that would make my life and answering questions like this very much easier, everything is very much straightforward,” he replies.

“I think it’s much better to do it on an annual basis. When we do a full set of accounts, you will find the figure will be the same as it was that my predecessors,” he told The Irish Times in an interview.

“It would be improper of me to put my own comfort in relation to the campaign ahead of what is the proper decision to make on behalf of the presidency as an institution.”

“It is not an allowance to me. It is an allowance to the performance of the Presidency. Anything that changes will affect the precedence that will come after me into the future. I prefer to do it in an orderly way.”

The new audit committee will be separate to an existing audit committee, which scrutinises the overall budget of the Áras but has had no role in looking at the €317,000 allowance.

At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee held two days in advance of the campaign, it emerged that the committee had not met for four years because its chairman was indisposed.

A new chairman, Joe Hanlon, was appointed earlier this year and that committee has met three times.

Meanwhile, the President has been warmly congratulated on his re-election and wished “every success for the years ahead” by the European Commission.

Its president, Jean-Claude Juncker, wrote to him saying his “understanding of the power of words to hurt or heal and to empower or divide is the mark of a true statesman”.