‘I am responding to requests to stand’: Higgins defends contesting second term

President defends expenses, public engagemens and failure to address Oireachtas

President Michael D Higgins speaks at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght, Co Dublin on Thursday announcing his arts initiative. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins speaks at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght, Co Dublin on Thursday announcing his arts initiative. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

President Michael D Higgins has defended the amount he is spending on his election campaign, the number of public engagements he has fulfilled and his expenses, a week before polling day.

In a wide-ranging interview he also defended the turnover of Áras an Uachtaráin staff under his presidency, his failure to address the houses of the Oireachtas and his decision to run for the office again having said that he would serve only one term.

President Higgins said he had not reneged “on a solemn promise” in relation to running for a second term. The only solemn promise he had made was “when I had the book in my hand” during his swearing in ceremony. He had changed his mind following requests from people that he stand again, he said.

“I mentioned that to you two years ago at the ploughing (championships),” he said on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke Show on Friday. “I said I think I may change my mind. I am responding to requests to stand.”

He said he started his campaign with his own resources and donations and did not accept any money from political parties. He anticipated that the amount for the campaign will be between €360,000 to €390,000 and is within Standards in Public Office (Sipo) guidelines.

Transparency

Mr Higgins rejected claims that the number of engagements he has fulfilled was fewer than his predecessor. He said that the claim had been made by one of the other candidates who was indulging in “American style black advertisements” using false figures.

On the issue of spending for the office of president, he said that the Comptroller and Auditor General signs off on accounts, but he believes that spending should be accounted in a more transparent and thoughtful way. He has proposals for an independent audit committee, but he would make changes that would affect not just him, but other future incumbents, he said.

Mr Higgins wants a comment from the independent audit committee to be included in the annual Arás report “because we do much in the Arás, I don’t think we tell our story well.”

“People want to know who is coming to the Arás? Who is visiting the Arás, where is the President going?”

When asked about the high turn over of staff, he said that people made changes in their careers and he did not place any limit on people’s ambitions. “I am very happy with my staff.”

Houses of the Oireachtas

Mr Higgins said his decision not to address the Houses of the Oireachtas was made as he wondered where he could make the best contribution, which was why he had addressed the European Parliament.

He had gone with the theme that if one is going to make an economic decision that falls on social groups, then one must take responsibility.

“I have a modus operandi that I don’t interfere in the legislative process,” he said.

He defended his recent pre-Budget comments on social spending and tax cuts, saying he did not think he had “put a toe over the line.” He meets with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar every six weeks to discuss topics they both bring to the table and he feels the meetings are “very fruitful” for both of them, he said.

On being asked if he had met more people than his predecessors, Mr Higgins said he had but that he did it in more flexible ways. He is going to approach the next seven years with even greater enthusiasm, he said.