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'A cynical political attack': Ministers hit out at questioning over €317,000 President's allowance

Questions surrounding the payment were raised at the Public Accounts Committee yesterday.

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy TD and the Minister for Health Simon Harris TD at the launch of the National Implementation Plan for Housing First in Dublin
Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy TD and the Minister for Health Simon Harris TD at the launch of the National Implementation Plan for Housing First in Dublin
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews

GOVERNMENT MINISTERS HAVE hit out at the Public Accounts Committee for questions over an annual €317,000 allowance given to the President of Ireland.

Yesterday it emerged that the allowance has been paid to the Office of the President since 1998, and that the Comptroller and Auditor General has no oversight over it.

The payment was described as “bizarre” by Fianna Fáil TD Marc McSharry, while Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats asked why the Office of the President does not come under Freedom of Information legislation.

However, Minister for Health Simon Harris claims the committee’s line of questioning was a “cynical political attack” designed to derail the re-election of President Michael D Higgins.

“I think there’s an attempt by some, probably some who aren’t supporting Michael D Higgins, to try to suggest that there’s something inappropriate, improper or unexplained in relation to this,” he said.

“I think this real yearning to try to create something at the PAC to link it to President Higgins … the electorate will see right through that.”

Harris also clarified that the Public Accounts Committee did important work and agreed that “full transparency” was important, but queried the timing of its inquiries.

He warned that Oireachtas committees should not “rush to judgement” and “plant the seed” that the money was personally benefiting the President.

“He’s not getting double his salary, that’s just not true,” he said.

“It’s important we have watchdogs, but it’d be really good if those watchdogs didn’t just bark at every passing car.”

Harris’ comments were echoed by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, who suggested the committee was “potentially trying to damage the incumbent” in his campaign.

“[It's] a separate question that should never even have been asked because people are trying to link it to Michael D,” he said.

“Another risk … would be reducing a very important national debate over the next coming weeks to more trivial issues that aren’t worthy of the types of things that we need to be talking about.”

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