The first debate between all six candidates in the presidential campaign has focused on the funding and expenses of the office of the President.
Asked about the situation in Áras an Uachtaráin at the moment, President Michael D Higgins said: “Transparency could be better”, while Senator Joan Freeman said bringing the office expenses under the remit of Comptroller and Auditor General would “end conversations like these” over expenses in the Áras.
However, it was Peter Casey’s attack on the incumbent President which put a spark into the debate on RTÉ News.
Mr Casey cited President Higgins’ use of a Lear jet to go to Belfast, London and elsewhere with the total cost coming to €49,000, before saying: “Even your dog grooming bill is paid for.”
President Higgins said he follows arrangements made by Government and he is anxious to minimise costs, saying: “I have never asked to stay in a particular hotel.”
He came under attack from all sides with Sean Gallagher referring to “unacceptable extravagance” at the Áras.
Mr Gallagher said it was “extraordinary” that the public was hearing about the President staying in “€3000 a night” hotels.
He said: “The issue for us as taxpayers is we’re not in a position to see these figures as they’re not transparent… it’s shocking we had to hear through the PAC that these accounts are not audited.”
President Higgins said “everything has been properly managed at the Áras”, before adding it would be useful to have an annual report on Áras activities.
He said: “I’ve already put the basic costs on the website, and they are all in the C&AG report, but the presentation of the huge range of work could be done in a more accessible way.”
The President said the first move he made was to reduce his salary, while Liadh ni Riada called for the Presidential salary to be halved saying it is too high and Gavin Duffy calling for better value for money at Áras an Uachtarain.