President refused to accept refund for daughter’s air fare

State papers 1986: Patrick Hillery declined rebate of £4,200 after State visit with family to Australia

President Patrick Hillery declined to take a refund of almost £4,200 from public funds for his daughter's air fare to Australia for an official presidential visit.

Records in the National Archives reveal then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald asked the Department of Finance to sanction a refund for £4,198.90 for Vivienne Hillery's return flight in May/June 1985.

Mary McQuaid of the Department of Finance wrote to the secretary to the government on February 21st, 1986, that the refund was being cleared “on the strict understanding that the inclusion of members of the family in the official party will be confined to visits by the Head of State and will not be extended to taoisigh or other members of the government”.

A confidential note to the government from Frank Murray of the Department of the Taoiseach indicated he had made an "informal" visit to the president on the same date and had indicated the approval had been obtained for his daughter's travelling expenses.

“The president said that in light of the precedents (re travel by various taoiseachs [sic] with members of their families), he felt he could not accept the refund proposed. He was very apprehensive at the possibility that any refund of travelling expenses might be publicised. He was thankful to the taoiseach for the trouble he had taken in raising the matter and obtaining official approval. He hoped he would understand his position.”

Murray wrote that he suggested to the president that he “might wish to reflect further on this matter” and that for the moment Murray would retain the payment order.

“He did not demur at this suggestion but thought it was unlikely that he would change his views.”

The files show Murray had established that on previous occasions, when taoisigh Liam Cosgrave and Charles Haughey had been accompanied by their children on official visits, the government had recouped the air-fare costs.

Drugs conference

In April 1985, however, when Dr FitzGerald’s wife Joan and her daughter Mary attended a drugs conference in the US, the Department of the Taoiseach bore the £1,878 cost.

Dr Hillery, his wife Dr Maeve Hillery, and an entourage of 13 arrived in Australia for a two-week visit on May 27th, 1986, on what was then the first Irish State visit to the country. Some 2,000 Irish-Australians attended a concert of John McCormack songs by tenor John McNally on the first evening.

Murray noted the president had again referred during the meeting to the question of his ministerial pension and to his discussions with Fitzgerald in this regard.

“He said that he had had further consultations with his accountant and that he was now proposing to give back the balance of the pension, after tax, as a gift to the State. His accountant was pursuing the idea with the Revenue Commissioners.”