General’s private car rental cost €310,000 over four years

Irish representative on European Union Military Committee used service ‘almost daily’

Guidelines for the use of the car and driver state the service should only be used in “exceptional circumstances” to attend functions in uniform

Guidelines for the use of the car and driver state the service should only be used in “exceptional circumstances” to attend functions in uniform

 

A €35-an-hour hired luxury car, used by Ireland’s representative on the European Union Military Committee (EUMC) cost more than €310,000 over a four-and-a-half year period, according to an internal Department of Defence audit.

Guidelines for the use of the car and driver state the service should only be used in “exceptional circumstances” to attend functions in uniform, where using the officer’s own car or a taxi “would not be appropriate”.

According to the audit, from March 2015 to June 2016, the car was booked on average 20 times a month, for an average six hours per trip. At the time, Brig Gen Murray Piggott was Ireland’s representative on the EUMC.

The audit examined the use of the car from April to June 2016, and found it was used “every week day with the exception of one”.

Over the three-month period it was used 64 times, for a total of 384 hours, with journey logs varying from three to eight hours in duration.

“A service, reserved for ‘exceptional circumstances’ was used on an almost daily basis for large periods of time and at a cost of over €4,000 per month,” the audit report states.

The private car hire firm used was Bvba Vanderbiest, and the Belgian company’s website says their fleet is made up of luxury passenger cars.

‘Classified documentation’

Reasons cited for using the car included “attendance at meetings, lunches, dinners and receptions”, according to the audit and there were four instances of use “for the distribution of classified documentation”. The audit was completed in June 2017 and released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The EUMC provides advice and recommendations on military policy and strategy, and is made up of the heads of each country’s military. Chief of Defence vice admiral Mark Mellett is head of the Irish Defence Forces. The military representative acts on his behalf on the EUMC and is stationed permanently in Brussels.

Brig Gen Piggott was appointed military representative in December 2013 and was replaced, on retirement, by Brig Gen Philip Brennan in February 2017.

The military representative can claim mileage for the use of his personal car at work, guidelines state, and “this should be the norm in almost all circumstances” where public transport or taxis would not be appropriate. A review of invoices from a financial support package for the post, paid by the Department of Foreign Affairs, “did not identify any instances of claims for mileage or public transport usage”, the audit said.

Spending on the Brussels car hire firm from 2012 to June 2016 made up two thirds of the almost €471,000 in Defence Forces expenditure on transport hire during the period. In 2014 almost €79,300 was paid to Bvba Vanderbeist.

‘Misinterpreted’

The audit recommended that a review of the service should be undertaken “urgently” to ensure its use was complying with guidelines.

The Defence Forces finance branch said on foot of the audit a comprehensive review showed it “was evident the facility was used on a more regular basis than as advised”, and the guidelines “appear to have been misinterpreted”.

Following the audit, further checks and scrutiny on the use of the service were put in place by military authorities. Spending on the private car hire over 2017 fell to €22,501, and €19,600 to date this year, according to a Defence Forces spokesman.

Decisions to use the vehicle take into account necessary “security requirements”, the spokesman said, these include advice not to use public transport in military uniform.

The Defence Forces spokesman said as Brig Gen Piggott is now retired, the Defence Forces could not respond to queries from The Irish Times on his behalf. However, he was made aware of the queries and of the publication of this article.