Former presidential adviser insists she left position on amicable terms

Mary van Lieshout ends speculation her resignation last month was as result of access being restricted

The former chief adviser to President Michael D Higgins, Mary van Lieshout, has drawn a line under the controversy surrounding her resignation by saying she left on amicable terms.

Ms van Lieshout was 20 months into a three-year contract as the President’s special adviser when she resigned last month.

Following the public disclosure of her departure last weekend, questions arose about the the extent of Ms van Lieshout’s access to the President, as well as the manner in which Mr Higgins managed his presidency.

In a personal statement issued last night through a public relations company, Ms van Lieshout clarified that those suggestions had no basis in fact.


“In recent days there has been much speculation and comment relating to my departure. I have sought to protect my privacy by not commenting. However, I wish to clarify matters at this time,” she said.

Ms van Lieshout said she had been honoured to accept the appointment of adviser when invited to do so by Mr Higgins and said she was privileged to have the experience of working in Áras an Uachtaráin.

Outlining her reasons for departing she said: “In order to pursue other interests, I decided to end the assignment and have now taken up a role in overseas development, an area to which I have a deep, personal and longstanding commitment.

'Amicable terms'
"I departed Áras an Uachtaráin on very amicable terms with everyone and wish the President, Sabina and all my former colleagues well for the future.

“I will be making no further comment on this matter,” she concluded.

Ms van Lieshout, who is American, took up a position with the aid agency Goal last month. Before being appointed by Mr Higgins she had held senior positions with agencies including the National Disability Authority.

She was one of three advisers selected by Mr Higgins shortly after his election as president in late 2011. She took up her position as his chief adviser in February 2012 on a salary of €103,472. The office of the President was granted approval by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin to breach the public pay cap for special advisers which was set at €80,051.

The other two appointments were former RTÉ press officer Sarah Martin, who was appointed as communications manager. Her salary of €75,000 was also above the pay cap for the grade.

Kevin McCarthy was appointed as an executive assistant to the President on a salary of €49,000. His role was a new one but the President’s office assured the Department of Public Expenditure the net cost of his employment would be met from non-pay savings in its budget.

Similarly, a new role of head of script-writing was also created, with Azilis Gouez from France, who previously worked for French president Francois Hollande, being recruited on a three-year contract.

Sources familiar with the workings of Áras an Uachtaráin were adamant there was no basis to the suggestion that access was being restricted to senior advisers by more junior staff, including Mr McCarthy.

“There is no basis to that, it is 100 per cent not right,” said a source, who spoke on the basis of anonymity. “It is the private secretary and not Mr McCarthy who arranges all the meetings and the truth is that nobody has any difficulty in getting access to the President.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times