Assistants for former taoisigh defended

 

TWO SECRETARIAL assistants funded by the taxpayer are provided for former taoisigh for the first five years after they stand down, the Dáil was told. After that they are entitled to one secretarial assistant indefinitely.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the scheme, which was introduced in 2001, also included provision for the purchase of computer equipment.

“I understand they carry out a normal range of secretarial duties to support the former taoisigh in carrying out those aspects of work associated with their former roles which remain after their period in office has ceased,’’ he said.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin suggested the scheme was “wasteful and beyond the acceptance of people’’, adding that the cost involved was not “small change’’. Last year alone secretarial facilities for former taoiseach Bertie Ahern cost €114,000.

He asked Mr Cowen if he was aware that the cost relating to former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald was in excess of €300,000. “Is he aware that over the past decade former taoiseach John Bruton has availed of the scheme while also involved during the greater part of that time in senior EU representative roles?’’

Mr Cowen said former taoisigh remained public persons and continued to play constitutional roles as former incumbents of the highest political office in the land.

Those utilising the scheme had not done so on the basis of a full-time secretarial assistant every year. One had incurred a cost of €12,365 this year, €19,000 three years ago and €14,000 the previous year. In other instances a full-time, full-year secretarial assistant was clearly utilised. “It is not a question of providing benefits to former incumbents; it is about the office and what it represents.’’