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Sunday 4 December 2016

Bertie's chauffeur-driven Merc clocks up €175,600 travel bill

Ailish O'Hora Public Affairs Correspondent

Published 06/04/2010 | 05:00

THE cost of providing chauffeur-driven cars to four ex-taoisigh came to a massive €684,247 last year, new figures reveal.

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And former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern ran up the biggest bill in his 2006 Mercedes S350 at €175,635.

But he was closely followed by Albert Reynolds, whose overall costs came to a total of €173,843.

During the year, Mr Ahern travelled extensively to promote his autobiography, which was co-written with Professor Richard Aldous.

Mr Ahern, Mr Reynolds, Garret FitzGerald and Liam Cosgrave are all entitled to a car with full-time garda driver for life.

Normally, this involves the assignment of two gardai to each former Taoiseach, each working one week on and one week off with relief drivers when they are on holiday.

The cost of the drivers for the four former leaders is standard, at €162,595.

However, Mr Ahern ran up the biggest bill for fuel and maintenance costs at €13,040.

Downturn

Mr Reynolds' fuel and maintenance costs were €11,248, Mr Cosgrave's bills came to €6,842 and Mr FitzGerald's were €2,737, according to the figures released by the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Ahern claimed last night that one of the reasons the cost of running his car was so high was because it broke down no fewer than six times last year.

"It's currently off the road," he added.

Despite the sharp downturn in government finances, none of the former taoisigh contacted last night said they felt they should give up their entitlement. Mr Reynolds said he had done the State enough service.

"Didn't I make enough money for them when I was there? I'm worth more to them than that," he told the Irish Independent.

Mr Cosgrave was not available for comment last night. And neither Mr Ahern nor Mr FitzGerald would be drawn on the issue.

Last year, 26 politicians and public servants -- including the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and President Mary McAleese -- qualified for a state car, which cost taxpayers a combined €4.6m.

Mr Ahern, who stepped down just as the country was plunging into recession, enjoys generous pension entitlements on top of his TD salary.

His half-rate Taoiseach's pension is worth €55,000, while he also earns €92,672 as a TD.

Last week, the second-longest serving Taoiseach in the history of the State, spent just 12 minutes in the Dail on the day the taxpayer heard that an additional €30bn was needed to keep our crisis-hit banking sector afloat. Within minutes of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan beginning to explain how he was going to tackle our economic problems, Mr Ahern left the chamber.

Income

Mr Ahern resigned as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fail two years ago at the height of the controversy over contradictions in evidence to the Mahon Tribunal about bank lodgments made in the 1990s when he was finance minister.

Since stepping down from power, Mr Ahern has been quick to capitalise on his profile as a former Taoiseach.

The most recent Dail register of interests shows he earned a tidy sum from speaking engagements last year. He has been signed up by the Washington Speakers Bureau, which charges a minimum of US$40,000 (€29,200) for his speaking fee.

In the register, Mr Ahern states that five of his speeches were organised by the bureau, netting him a potential income of €146,000.

In 2009, he also almost doubled the number of his speaking engagements abroad to 16.

But despite his generous income, pension and state entitlements, Mr Ahern has always insisted he was not interested in money.

He once stated: "I'm not interested in wealth. Anyone who knows me knows this is true ... I associate wealth with trouble and I don't really need that.

"Once I can have a few jars, talk to the guys, go down to Tolka and Croker -- that makes me happy."

Irish Independent

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