Higgins faces more turbulence over use of Government jet

President ‘welcomes’ PSNI statement seen as challenging his claim of ‘security concerns’

President Michael D Higgins launching his Shared Ireland, Shared Island initiative at Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda, Co Louth, on Monday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

President Michael D Higgins launching his Shared Ireland, Shared Island initiative at Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda, Co Louth, on Monday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

President Michael D Higgins has claimed he was following security advice from his own office when he used the Government jet to travel to Belfast for a function earlier this year.

He has also said he welcomed a statement from the Police Service of Northern Ireland which has been seen as challenging his claim that security concerns meant he had to travel to Belfast by both plane and car.

During a debate last week, Mr Higgins claimed he had to use both the Government jet and his State car because “security reasons” meant he “couldn’t be picked up at the Border”.

He used the Government jet to travel to Belfast to deliver a speech last May, when his car also travelled to bring him from the airport to Queen’s University.

A PSNI statement, which said it would “routinely work with visiting heads of state and other key figures visiting Northern Ireland and make full provisions for their safety in line with their requirements”, has been seen as a challenge to Mr Higgins’s initial account.

The President said yesterday: “I am very happy with the official PSNI statement ... I agree with it and I am happy to reciprocate to it by again expressing my thanks for their co-operation and courtesy.”

Further details

Air Corps

The Department of Defence regularly publishes a full itinerary of ministerial use of Air Corps aircraft, but use by the President is not disclosed.

Mr Higgins’s rivals, who trail him by a huge distance according to opinion polls, have seized on his use of the facilities of the presidency.

Sinn Féin candidate Liadh Ní Riada called on Mr Higgins to “come clean” about the matter.

All six candidates in the presidential election – Mr Higgins, Seán Gallagher, Ms Ní Riada, Joan Freeman, Peter Casey and Gavin Duffy – will take part in the final TV debate of the campaign on RTÉ One’s Prime Time tonight at 9.35pm. Mr Higgins is likely to come under pressure on his use of the jet.

Ms Ní Riada called on Mr Higgins to respond to “very serious questions” over the use of public money during his seven-year term.

However, supporters of Mr Higgins countered that Ms Ní Riada, as an MEP, was in receipt of an unvouched allowance worth €4,416 per month. The General Expenditure Allowance (GEA) is intended for rent for MEP’s offices and stationery.