State cars and Garda drivers cost almost €11m over past two years

 

THE PROVISION of Garda drivers and State cars to Cabinet Ministers, former taoisigh, the President, Chief Whip, Ceann Comhairle and others has cost almost €11 million in the past two years, it has emerged.

This represents expenditure of €105,000 per week, or €15,000 per day. Fine Gael has vowed to end the practice of supplying the cars and Garda drivers, saying if it were in government a car pooling system would be introduced.

The party’s transport spokesman, Simon Coveney TD, said a Fine Gael government would also introduce a system where cars would be driven by civilians, with Garda drivers used only for the taoiseach and minister for justice. Those entitled to drivers and cars would also be encouraged to drive themselves in their own cars and claim mileage for their journeys.

Fine Gael said it would cut by half the cost of providing cars and drivers.

Mr Coveney used written Dáil questions to Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to obtain details of the cost of providing the cars and Garda drivers to 27 office holders and former office holders.

He said it was “incredible” that €10.9 million had been spent on the cars and drivers in the past two years at a time when the Republic was “on its knees”.

Some 54 gardaí were being used to drive the office holders and former office holders around in an arrangement that was “far too expensive” and went “way beyond” what was needed.

“There can be no sacred cows when the country is in fiscal crisis, and the Government must lead by example in cutting unnecessary expenditure,” he said.

“In government, Fine Gael will ensure that mercs and ministers will no longer be automatically associated.”

Mr Coveney added that his party’s proposals around reforming the system and halving its cost would be contained in its forthcoming public service reform document.

The largest costs associated with providing cars and drivers in 2008 and last year was the salaries of the 54 gardaí who drive the vehicles. The combined salaries, which attract a heavy premium for ministerial car duties, were €4.2 million last year and €4.4 million in 2008.

The combined cost of fuel, maintenance, depreciation and replacement cars in the two-year period brought expenditure up to €10.9 million.

In 2008 11 of the cars were changed at a cost to the exchequer of €510,000. However, since then and because of the recession, only one car has been bought, for former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald in 2009.

Traditionally, gardaí have been assigned to drive ministers and other office holders and former office holders around because they double as bodyguards.

However, the need for such protection by most of those entitled to a Garda driver and car has been questioned repeatedly in recent years.

The provision of cars for such a large number of current and former office holders, who in some cases left public life several decades ago, has also been the subject of much debate.

While there are 27 cars in the fleet at present, some 54 gardaí are assigned to full-time driving duties.

They are all armed detectives and carry guns when on driving duties. The cars are different models but many are Mercedes.