Higgins willing to provide more details of Áras spending

President defends unaudited presidential allowance of €317,000

President Michael D Higgins at the official launch of his presidential election campaign in   Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

President Michael D Higgins at the official launch of his presidential election campaign in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Michael D Higgins has defended an unaudited presidential allowance of €317,000 but said he was willing to provide more details of spending in the Áras.

Speaking at the official launch of his re-election campaign, Mr Higgins said he had started to supply more information during the summer on his website and would continue to do so.

“I have no difficulty in constructing a formal statement that can live within the Constitution and at the same time accept the independence of the president, whoever he or she is,” he said of the allowance, which has been available since 1938, and at its present level of €317,000 since 1998.

The lack of transparency on spending details in the Áras had been criticised in some quarters and was the subject of a Public Accounts Committee hearing earlier this week.

Nominations for the presidential election officially closed at noon yesterday. There are six candidates in the running including Mr Higgins.

Election slogan

Mr Higgins says he has no role in handling the allowance which is used for the many events that take place in the Áras each year.

He said it was always open to the Oireachtas to remove the allowance “if you didn’t want to serve a cup of tea to those elderly citizens, if you didn’t want to receive those citizens who were in the Magdalene Laundries or those associated with the Irish language movement and indeed all the different voluntary groups”.

She was then interviewed by a senior garda. She was an unemployed person. I wished her well. That’s how it should be

Mr Higgins’ election slogan will be “A President for Us All”. Setting out his campaign themes, he said he would be best placed to be Ireland’s voice in an uncertain period ahead.

Asked at the launch of his campaign about comments made by fellow candidate Peter Casey, who suggested an incident involving an intruder in the Áras was a stunt, Mr Higgins said: “The gate was open and [the intruder] drove in and the door was open and came in to a door beside my office.

“We had a conversation. There were a few things we discussed. When that was finished I left the room under my own volition.

President Michael D Higgins pictured at UCD, Belfield, Co Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times
“The arrangement for the President and where he stays are made by the Department of Foreign Affairs without consultation,”  Michael D Higgins said“I have never asked to stay in a particular hotel. I have stayed in hostels and stayed in tents and with Concern in Somalia.” File photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

“She was then interviewed by a senior garda. She was an unemployed person. I wished her well. That’s how it should be.”

In an extended conference Mr Higgins cut a relaxed figure when fielding questions. He outlined why he had changed his mind after promising to serve only one term. He said it was because of new challenges such as Brexit, climate change, immigration and sustainability.

Yoga teacher

Asked about his age, Mr Higgins (77) said: “My health is excellent . . . I am very fit and I am really looking forward to getting into the campaign.”

He added: “I have much more energy than in 2011 because I got my knee done [operated on].

“I don’t drink and don’t smoke and I have a yoga teacher.”

Asked about the claims made by Senator Gerard Craughwell that he stayed in a suite at a luxury hotel in Switzerland this year, costing up to €3,000 per night, the President said he had never asked to stay in a particular hotel.

“The arrangement for the President and where he stays are made by the Department of Foreign Affairs without consultation,” he said.

“I have never asked to stay in a particular hotel. I have stayed in hostels and stayed in tents and with Concern in Somalia.”

The election will take place on Friday October 26th, with the winner inaugurated on November 11th.