PAC to decide whether to investigate President’s spending

Committee asked to examine claims Michael D Higgins stayed in €3,000-a-night hotel

Speaking at the 87th Ploughing Championships in Tullamore, Co Offaly, President Michael D Higgins says he hopes the presidential race is "dignified" and "about real issues". Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

The Public Accounts Committee will decide on Thursday if it will scrutinise the spending of the President’s office.

It comes after unconfirmed reports this summer that President Michael D Higgins stayed in a luxury Geneva hotel, the Beau-Rivage, when he visited the city to address the International Labour Organisation.

The issue was raised by Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell who said he had received information during the summer that Mr Higgins stayed at the hotel, where top suites are advertised for €3,000 a night.

Neither the Áras nor the Department of Foreign Affairs would confirm if Mr Higgins stayed at the Beau-Rivage, or the cost of his accommodation (if any) during his visit.

Several requests

Chairman Sean Fleming confirmed the committee had since then received several requests to examine the allocated finances to the President’s office to determine if there was value for money.

The issue will be discussed at the PAC meeting on Thursday. If the committee does decide to examine the President’s spending, the hearing will have to be held next Tuesday.

Mr Fleming thinks that if it takes place after Wednesday, September 26th, (when the presidential election campaign has started) it could be seen as political interference.

The accounting officer for the President’s office is the Secretary General to the Government, Martin Fraser, who would be required to appear before the committee.

Details of spending of the President’s office, including for hotel accommodation, flights and foreign trips, are not divulged to the public.

The office is exempt from Freedom of Information requests. However, all foreign trips, including the size of delegations and costs, require the approval of the Government.

The overall budget for the President’s office has not changed markedly since Mr Higgins replaced Mary McAleese. Some €1.4 million of its €4.3 million budget is allotted to a financial reward for citizens who reach 100 years of age.

Of the remaining €3 million, €1.8 million is allowed for salaries; €310,000 is allotted to travel and €340,000 to training and incidental expenses.

Mr Higgins took a reduction in salary of €70,000 from Mrs McAleese, and is paid some €250,000 a year. He also gave up his Dáil and ministerial pensions worth €93,000 a year during his time in the Áras.