Presidential debate focuses on spending in the Áras

Gallagher concerned at the ‘extravagance attached to the office’ Michael D Higgins

 

Transparency around the spending in the Office of the President has been criticised by several candidates in the first presidential radio debate with all candidates.

Mr Gallagher said he had concerns over the “extravagance attached to the office” under President Michael D Higgins, and the lack of financial transparency.

“We’ve heard stories of €3,000 a night hotels, the issue for us as taxpayers, we’re not in a position to see these figures,” he said. If elected he would stay in accommodation attached to Irish embassies when abroad, rather than hotels, he said.

President Higgins defended spending in Áras an Uachtaráin, and committed to publishing more transparent details of expenditure if re-elected.

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada said moves to publish detailed financial breakdowns of spending in the office “is something that should have been addressed at the beginning” of Mr Higgins’ first term. She also said the salary of the President was “exorbitant.”

Mr Casey said President Higgins was “totally disingenuous” when it came to commitments to transparency around the spending of his office.

“We don’t have to wait until you are elected to see how much money you are wasting in the Áras,” he said.

The first debate attended by all six candidates in the presidential election took place today at 1pm, on RTÉ Radio One.

It was the first debate featuring the incumbent President Michael D Higgins after he did not attend a previous radio debate, due to a scheduling conflict.

During the debate Mr Gallagher committed to publishing his tax clearance certificates in the coming days. He was responding to questions from Ms Ní Riada about whether he would have any conflict of interests if elected, due to his directorships in several companies.

Last seven years

Asked by Ms Ní Riada what he had “being doing for the last seven years,” since he ran for the presidency in 2011. Mr Gallagher said: “In 2011 I like many people in this country I started again ... I pay my tax in Ireland, I’m fully compliant with tax.”

Asked about his commercial interests former Dragons’ Den investors Gavin Duffy said he had suspended work for his company Gavin Duffy & Associates, until after the election.

Former Dragons’ Den investor Peter Casey also said he had stepped aside from the “day to day” running of his businesses.

Independent Senator Joan Freeman said she “had no choice” but to take a €120,000 loan to finance her campaign, from US-based businessman Des Walsh, of Herbalife, a company which had to pay a substantial fine arising from allegations of pyramid selling.

One of the key roles of the Presidency is to sign legislation into law and the President also holds the power to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court, if there are concerns it conflicts with the Constitution.

Ms Freeman said in a situation where legislation was passed by the Oireachtas to ban evictions for three years, she would refer the Bill to the Supreme Court.

Mr Gallagher said he would “likely put the bill into law and allow it be tested that way,” unless the Attorney General or Council of State raised concerns over the bill.

Ms Ní Riada said she would address the House of the Oireachtas on the issue of homelessness if elected.

Palestine would be one of the first locations she would visit as Head of State, she said. “You’re not there to be just following the Government’s lead,” she said.

The presidential election will take place in two weeks time on Friday, October 26th.

A Red C poll released on Friday showed Mr Higgins had a significant lead in the race, with 70 per cent support, among 1,000 people randomly polled.

Mr Gallagher was the nearest contender on 14 per cent, followed by Ms Freeman on 6 per cent, Ms Ní Riada (5 per cent), Mr Duffy (4 per cent), and Mr Casey (1 per cent).

Yesterday Mr Gallagher launched his campaign, and played down suggestions the contest was a foregone conclusion, given Mr Higgins’ apparent lead. Most voters would only engage with the election in the next two weeks, he said.

The presidential radio debate will last for an hour and is being moderated by broadcaster Cormac Ó hEadhra.

The other key debates featuring all the candidates will take place on October 17th, on Virgin Media TV hosted by presenter Pat Kenny, and October 23rd on RTÉ’s Prime Time.