Talking of Irish political scandals, the news that the office of the president has been in receipt of an unaccountable “allowance” of €317,000 euros a year, in addition to the president’s annual salary of €325,000 (which the present incumbent, Michael D Higgins, voluntarily reduced to a pauper-like €250,000 in 2011), seems to have taken everyone by surprise. Even though the increased pay-out from state coffers was legislated for way back in 1998, when Mary McAleese was sitting in Áras an Uachtaráin. The expenses for the President of Ireland have been wrapped in secrecy and obfuscation for decades and some estimates put the cost to the tax-payer for the most recent seven year incumbency at €30 million and more. This is a truly astonishing figure for a largely ceremonial, non-executive role. Is it any wonder that a bevvy of less than inspiring characters are lining up to try and get their foot in the door of the Áras?
Meanwhile, The Irish Times reports that the former Labour politician Michael D Higgins had this reply for those criticising the inflated costs of his presidency:
Mr Higgins says he has no role in handling the allowance which is used for the many events that take place in the Áras each year.
He said it was always open to the Oireachtas to remove the allowance “if you didn’t want to serve a cup of tea to those elderly citizens, if you didn’t want to receive those citizens who were in the Magdalene Laundries or those associated with the Irish language movement and indeed all the different voluntary groups”.
Which as tone deaf statements go, is somewhere up there with Marie Antoinette’s, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioch!”.