Revealed: Treasure of €30,000 unused gifts in Taoiseach department as ‘too valuable’ to accept

The Taoiseach’s department is sitting on gifts worth €30,000 which were presented to the Taoiseach or Ceann Comhairle but were deemed too valuable for them to keep.

An official journal of high-value items reveals how various taoisighs and the current Dáil president received 11 gifts that had to be handed over under ethics rules.

Items include a painting of dancer Michael Flatley, a €7,700 Rolex watch, a first edition by Samuel Beckett and a bust of former US President John F Kennedy.

Under the ethical rules for receiving gifts, people in high public office are not allowed to accept a gift worth more than €650 due to the risk of corruption.

In May 2011, a gift from then US President Barack Obama had to be delivered by the Taoiseach’s Department after being appraised at €1,500. The screenprint by American artist Alex Katz was one of 50 in a limited edition called Worryaccording to the department newspaper.

A “painting resembling mounted silk” donated by then Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was returned to safekeeping in 2012. Titled Suzhou Prosperous Sceneit was valued at €800.

The same month, February 2012, then-taoiseach Enda Kenny was given a bust of JFK by the John F Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston. Its value is estimated at €2,000, according to an expert report carried out by the department.

One of the most treasured gifts on the list is a painting by dancer Michael Flatley titled An Ocras Mor — the Famine — which was valued at €5,000. It was presented to Mr. Kenny in February 2013, with a value based on the sale of Flatley’s first artwork for €5,600.

In June 2013, a 14-inch crystal vase worth approximately €800 was returned to the custody of the department after being donated by the Kennedy family.

There were no other high value gifts until 2015 when Kenny received an €800 photographic print called The Borean by Kim Haughton.

It is the only one of the gifts originally held by the department that has since been turned over to the Bureau of Public Works for inclusion in the state art collection.

In May 2015, Mr Kenny received a handmade embroidery worth €6,800 from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, records show. This piece is called Sunrise on Mount Huangshan.

A month later, another valuable gift had to be handed over after being offered by the Speaker of the Islamic Parliament of Iran. It was a framed ceramic clock, which was valued at at least €1,000.

Another item in Taoiseach’s department diary was an engraving of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican donated by Pope Francis..

It was given a value of “over €650”, but no further details were provided on its exact value.

One of the most controversial items in the collection is a €7,700 Rolex watch given to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl during an official trip to the United Arab Emirates in 2018.

Mr. Ó Fearghaíl requested that the watch be sold and that the proceeds be donated to the charity Trócaire. However, it remains seated in a safe at the Taoiseach’s department.

The most recent high value gift on the list is a first edition Samuel Beckett Comment This is, or how it is, from 1961.

It was gifted to Taoiseach Micheál Martin last August by French President Emmanuel Macron and was valued at €3,850.

The Public Service Ethics Act means that the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, any Minister or Minister of State, Ceann Comhairle, Cathaoirleach or their deputies cannot accept gifts over €650 except from a “friend or relative”.

Gifts of less than this value may be accepted, unless they may violate other rules or laws relating to the prevention of corruption.

Gifts from foreign delegations or thanks for giving a speech are “generally acceptable”, according to the rules of ethics.

A policy brief on gifts states: “The Corruption Offenses Act provides that a gift given to a public official by or on behalf of a person having an interest in the office holder’s duties is presumed to have been given and received by corruption. Such gifts are therefore prohibited.

If a civil servant receives a gift of great value, he is required to inform the Secretary General of the Government as soon as possible.

Custody of the item is then arranged, or for it to be sold or given back. In the event of a sale, the proceeds can either be donated to the Exchequer or donated to charity.

Floyd N. Morlan