Higgins to return €200,000 to State at end of term

President says €317,000 allowance is used to cater for events at Áras attended by 20,000

President Michael D Higgins speaks to reporters. Photograph: PA

President Michael D Higgins speaks to reporters. Photograph: PA

 

President Michael D Higgins has given some details of the spending of a unaudited €317,000 annual Áras An Uachtaráin allowance.

Earlier this week Mr Higgins said he would not give full details of the allowance until after the election. On Tuesday, Mr Higgins said a “full return on every euro” spent of the €317,000 allowance would be given in November.

However, he opted on Thursday to give more information now, saying that €280,000 a year had been spent on hospitality for guests to the Áras, including monthly tea parties for senior citizens and a cultural gathering.

It has also covered the cost for receptions for the victorious Dublin footballers, the Cork women’s hurlers, Ireland’s women’s hockey team, and the Special Olympics.

Mr Higgins said he expected to be able to hand back about €200,000 from the €2.2 million received during his seven-year term of office under the fund, which was created in 1932.

The annual fund has not been increased since 1998. Mr Higgins said his predecessor Mary McAleese, at the end of her 14-year term, had returned €457,000 to the exchequer.

Dealing with the general costs of his office, Mr Higgins said it had run to between €25 million and €26 million since 2011. Last year, it cost €3.6 million. Of this, €1.7 million went on salaries.

A bounty for the country’s 412 centenarians this year cost more than €1 million. In addition, the President said he sent medals to 542 people who were more than 100 years of age.

Speaking in Cork, he said the centenarians’ bounty and salaries for 27 Áras staff represented 76 per cent of the €3.6 million. Information is already published about Áras spending and he was happy to make it “more accessible”.

People should know what was being spent by the Áras and for them to access everything they want to know the President is doing “in the name of the people of Ireland. What is being spent, I account for it. And I think we get great value.”

Saying that he hoped he would be re-elected, Mr Higgins declared: “I could have a much easier life, but I enjoy doing what I’m doing and giving it everything I can.”

Barriers

If successful, he will highlight the barriers still facing many today: “The promotion of a more inclusive society has been a cornerstone, not only of my presidency, but of my life.

“From Mayfield to Monaghan, a spirit of inclusion can be seen in so many of our villages, towns and cities. People have shared with us their hopes, ambitions and concerns.

“They have highlighted, through their words and actions, the importance of participation. Everyone has a contribution to make,” said Mr Higgins, who was accompanied by his wife, Sabina.

However, “very real and often painful barriers” exist: “Very often it is those on the margins, whose voices most need to be heard, who can face the most obstacles.

“When it comes to disability, gender, age, ethnicity, family status and socio-economic circumstance, Ireland is not achieving an equality of participation,” he went on.

Under the plan, individuals and communities will be brought together to talk about their experiences, while public and private institutions will be asked to reflect on what they can do to help.

Following the launch of his campaign in Cork, Mr Higgins met a large group of supporters from Cork city and county who are campaigning for his re-election on 26th October.