Saturday 10 December 2016

Axed ministerial drivers allowed to retire with enhanced pensions

DANIEL McCONNELL CHIEF REPORTER

Published 15/01/2012 | 05:00

Garda drivers formerly assigned to the ministerial fleet have been allowed to retire on significantly enhanced pensions afforded to them because of their roles, the Sunday Independent has learned.

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It has been confirmed that in "recognition of all of the overtime and unsociable hours" they worked, the drivers received an additional ministerial allowance worth 40 per cent of their salary on top of their basic wage.

Crucially, this significant top-up allowance was included in the calculation of their final pensionable salary, at the cost of millions to the taxpayer over the lifetime of the pensions.

Drivers in the fleet occupied the rank of garda member and their maximum basic salary was €45,793.

However, according to information from the Department of Justice, the specific top-up allowance paid to members of the ministerial pool is 40 per cent of their salary.

As a result of the top-up allowance, retiring drivers from the fleet receive pensions equivalent to those received by retiring superintendents, whose final maximum annual salary is €82,183.

The fleet of drivers has been reduced significantly to 22 drivers who have been retained to detail the small number of office holders who are still entitled to protection. About 30 drivers went back into specialised units, mainly in Dublin, once the fleet was reduced.

The Government, on taking office last March, disbanded the fleet except for a small number of office holders including the President, Taoiseach, Tanaiste, the Minister for Justice, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief Justice.

Former Taoisigh are entitled to the use of the state cars and drivers on request for special state occasions.

Ministerial drivers work a week-on/week-off roster Wednesday to Wednesday. During their week on they can accumulate a very large number of working hours and those assigned to rural office holders accumulate a very high number of miles within the working week.

There are six drivers assigned to President Michael D Higgins and the other office holders have two drivers each.

There are also a number of relief drivers who cover sick leave, annual leave and who will serve the former Taoisigh on big state occasions.

A host of luxury Lexus, Audi, Mercedes and Volvo cars used as the ministerial fleet by the previous Government remain under lock and key at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park, eight months after being taken out of active service.

Back in September, it was stated that a number of the plush cars would be kept in reserve while the rest would be sold at auction.

However, no auction has yet taken place and there is a belief that the cars will be difficult to sell given the amount of miles accumulated during active service. No new cars have been purchased since 2009.

The Government repeatedly championed how it has saved €4.2m by reducing the size of the fleet but the figures quoted do not provide the full picture. Not one garda was sacked from his post, so the move to civilian drivers meant the taxpayer was hit for a further burden, not a reduced one.

Back in January 2009, this newspaper revealed how then-Taoiseach Brian Cowen refused to be chauffeured in a new €150,000 Mercedes S-Class because of "the changed financial and economic circumstances".

The State car languished unused for almost a year in a garage in the Phoenix Park. The top-of-the-range black Mercedes S350 was procured for his use the previous June, but believing it would send out the wrong signals, Mr Cowen declined to use it.

Sunday Independent

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