President Michael D Higgins: 'Let the audit committee look at everything'

President Michael D Higgins has said he supports more transparency around the activities and spending in the Áras.

Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1, he said it would be a good idea to bring out an annual report on all the engagements, visits and spending in the office.

"I believe that we should do more and that we should add transparency...in a thoughtful, planned way," he said.

"I am thinking of proposing to the government, if and when I'm elected, to have an independent audit committee to look at what that €317,000 is for, that will do a continuous audit and visit three or four times a year."

"The important thing is that if you are going to make a change in the institution in which you're offering an audit committee independent of yourself, that effects not me, that effects whoever is the incumbent as president."

Let the audit committee look at everything. I want to put a comment from that audit committee into an annual report on the activities of the Áras.

"I don't think we tell our story well, so I think it would be a very good idea to bring an annual report out that can deal with all these issues, who's coming to the garden parties, what special groups have been met, where did the president go, who has been to see the president."

He said it would be an abuse of the constitutional position of the president to open the Áras to the Freedom of Information Act.

"What I did say, and it remains my position, if legislation comes before me that can fit under Article 13.8 I am happy to sign it, but what I will not do is facilitate a fudge in which the independence of the presidency is in a less position when I leave than when I was there."

On not addressing the Oireachtas, President Higgins has said he did not address the Houses during his term in office as his speech text would have to be run by the government.

He said that in light of the Troika and the difficulties in the country he chose to speak in the European Parliament, where "he could make the best contribution".

"I have no difficulty in a future term in addressing the Oireachtas," he said.

On running for a second term, President Higgins said: "I changed my mind... I had sectors and groups saying to me they were very happy with the way I was running the presidency".

I'm responding to a request to stand and I am very, very happy to do so.

The news that Peter Casey is to take the weekend off to decide whether he will continue to run for the presidency broke during the interview.

The former Dragon's Den star, who sparked controversy this week over remarks he made about the Travelling Community, said he would "think carefully about whether to continue in the race".

Responding to that statement, President Higgins said that he thought it was good to reflect on what had happened.

"I do wish him well. He knows very well my reaction to the remarks he made about the Travelling Community, I regard it as appalling," he said.

"It is good to reflect on it and I would like to think this is an aberration perhaps.

"It would be very cynical to take one of the most vulnerable communities and use them as an opportunity to kick up your ratings in the polls," he said.

Voters will go to the polls next Friday, and candidates will take part in the final debate of the campaign on Prime Time on Tuesday night.

You can listen to the full interview with President Higgins here:

By Marita Moloney

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