‘Lack of certainty’ over €317,000 allowance for President

Confidential draft of report for PAC finds failure of audit group to meet ‘unacceptable’

President Michael D Higgins, who was sworn in for a second seven-year term last November, came under pressure during the presidential election over the allowance. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

President Michael D Higgins, who was sworn in for a second seven-year term last November, came under pressure during the presidential election over the allowance. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

There is a “lack of certainty” around a €317,000 allowance which is given to the President of Ireland every year, an unpublished report by the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee has found.

A confidential draft of a forthcoming committee report, which has been seen by The Irish Times, also finds that it is “unacceptable” that an internal audit committee set up in 2014 did not meet for almost four years.

Michael D Higgins, who was sworn in for a second seven-year term last November, came under pressure during the presidential election over the allowance.

The allowance was established in 1938 to support the President in the performance of their duties, and was set at its current rate under the presidency of Mary McAleese.

The new report finds that “there is a lack of certainty in relation to the €317,000 allowance to the President which is granted under the Presidential Establishment Act.”

The PAC is set to recommend that “greater transparency be brought to the purpose and auditing of this allowance.”

The report is also critical of the lack of meetings held by the internal audit committee.

It states that members of the PAC “discussed the inactivity of the President’s Establishment’s audit committee and that the process of carrying out internal audits only began recently.”

It further states that the PAC was told “that a chairperson for an audit committee was appointed in spring 2014 but that the chair became indisposed, resulting in the audit’s committee’s lack of activity. A new chairperson was put in place in February 2018 and the internal audit committee has met three times since then.”

‘Indisposed’

The document says that the PAC will recommend that “a process should be put in place to allow the audit committee to meet if the chairperson is indisposed.”

Áras an Uachtaráin last December published a breakdown of how the annual €317,000 allowance was spent since President Higgins first took office.

The Áras published a document called ‘The Presidency in review, 2011-2018’ and said an unspent portion of the allowance - a cumulative €238,443 - from Mr Higgins’s first term will be returned to the exchequer.

In a statement accompanying the document, a spokesman said that a new independent committee would be established to monitor the controversial allowance, with the aim of having it set up early this year.

“As part of the President’s commitment to greater financial transparency, Áras an Uachtaráin confirmed that the process of establishing an independent committee to provide oversight of the 1938 Allowance is well advanced,” the statement read.

President Higgins is also planning to publish a review each year during his second term.

According to the breakdown of how the allowance was spent, the total amount spent on in-house events was €301,748 for 2012; €226,932 for 2013; €238,979 for 2014; €252,390 for 2015; €269,818 for 2016; €251,411 for 2017 and €206,974 for the first ten months of 2018.

Food and beverages combined was consistently the most expensive element of events, costing between €164,873 for 2012 and €125,589 for 2018.