Further calls have been made to make the President’s travel costs public after it was claimed that Michael D Higgins stayed in a luxury hotel at a cost of €3,000 a night.
Senator Gerard Craughwell, who had initially put himself forward to run for the Áras before bowing out, has claimed that Mr Higgins stayed in a suite in a five-star hotel in Geneva, Switzerland.
It comes as other presidential hopefuls, Gavin Duffy and Pádraig Ó Céidigh, have said the office of the President should come inside the scope of Freedom of Information (FoI).
President Michael D Higgins.
Currently, the President and his office are exempt from FoI despite receiving more than €30m in public funding over the past seven years.
The Independent senator said an “outraged” member of the public had written to him to outline the President’s trip on June 6-7, which included a two-night stay in a suite in the Beau-Rivage Hotel, which was being sold for between €2,721 and €3,077 to stay in, last night.
While Mr Craughwell admitted that Mr Higgins is not responsible for booking his own accommodation and it is done through the Department of Foreign Affairs, he said questions must be raised when taxpayers’ funds are being spent.
This is public money we are talking about, but there is a more important issue here around whoever is booking the accommodation here. I know the Oireachtas staff who are booking accommodation will not exceed a four-star hotel anywhere, and that includes ministers.
He said the cheapest possible flights are also selected for TDs, senators, and ministers when travelling. “So it is only right and proper that all public offices are open to FoI. I think what’s wrong is the mystery around all of this.”
He said this will become more of an issue as the presidential campaign ramps up and told RTÉ’s Today with Miriam O’Callaghan programme that even the British royal family is subject to FoI.
While he said it is “extremely important” that the President travels to different countries around the world especially when promoting trade, the cost of that travel should be made public.
Mr Craughwell denied that he was drawing attention to the expense because he had been forced to bow out of the presidential race, citing the cost of running a campaign.
Thankfully, the story did not break when I was still a presidential candidate, it would have been a direct attack on the president in that case.
“There are no sour grapes here. At the end of day, I set out to ensure that there would be a presidential election. There will be one, I am delighted that’s going to happen,” he said, wishing all of the potential candidates the very best of luck.
Dragons’ Den expert Mr Duffy, who is hoping to secure a presidential nomination, already called for the costs associated with the office of the President, including travel expenses, to be made public.
Last night, a spokesperson for the President said: “Foreign travel by the President is made with the approval of the Government. Arrangements for the President’s travel and accommodation are made by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the host country.
“President Higgins was requested by the secretary general of the International Labour Organisation to provide the keynote address in Geneva at the 108th International Labour Organisation conference, the ‘World of Work’ summit, an important international event bringing together governments, employer organisations and trade unions from all UN member states.”
Delegates from IBEC, ICTU and government departments comprised the attendance at this conference. They were present at the conference as members of the ILO and travelled independently of the President’s Office.
As part of this visit, the President used the opportunity to have bilateral meetings with the following leaders of international organisations – ILO Director-General, Mr Guy Ryder; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Filippo Grandi and with Mr Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red, which had been requested earlier in the year.