Friday 22 September 2017

Ex-Taoisigh face losing their phones and perks as cuts hit

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

FORMER Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen face being stripped of their taxpayer funded mobile phones and entitlement to use VIP airport lounges.

All former taoisigh are entitled to have their mobile phone and airport costs paid for by the State, and the latest figures available for Mr Ahern, dating from his resignation in 2008 to May 2010, show that his VIP airport facilities bill was €5,682 and his mobile phone bill was €8,331.

There are no figures available for Mr Cowen yet, since he only stood down as Taoiseach in March.

However, the former Laois-Offaly TD was pictured earlier this year using Ryanair to go on a golfing holiday in Portugal and did not avail of VIP lounges.

Albert Reynolds claimed €5,446 during the same period as Mr Ahern until May 2010, while John Bruton, who served as Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, claimed €3,477 in mobile costs, but no airport VIP charges.

Garret FitzGerald claimed €1,730 while Liam Cosgrave, who headed the Fine Gael/Labour coalition from 1973 to 1977, did not claim any funds under the arrangement.

The payments come on top of the pensions given to former Taoisigh, which usually top €100,000 a year.

Entitlements

After the Government stripped former officeholders of their entitlement to a state car and garda driver, they are still entitled to their mobile phone costs, as well as secretarial assistants. But a spokeswoman for Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said these are all now in the firing line.

All such spending is being looked at under the comprehensive spending review ordered in all government departments by Mr Howlin.

The Department of the Taoiseach is responsible for paying for the phone bills and VIP charges, but these will come under the microscope in the coming months.

Figures are not compiled on the cost of getting former Taoisigh to major state functions, such as the National Day of Commemoration of the 1916 Rising.

"As part of the comprehensive review of expenditure the minister has asked all departments to look at all aspects of expenditure under their remit and to compile reports setting out options for reducing expenditure," Mr Howlin's spokeswoman added.

Draft spending reports have been submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the past few days, and final reports are due to be delivered to Mr Howlin by the end of this month.

The reports will be studied by a steering committee in the department before being presented to the Economic Management Council -- made up of Mr Howlin, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny -- in September.

"The results of the process will then be brought before Government for consideration and decision in the budget and estimates process later this year," Mr Howlin's spokesperson said.

Independent TD Finian McGrath last night challenged Mr Howlin to do away with the phone payments for former Taoisigh.

"In the current economic climate, it's disgraceful that the taxpayer is funding the payment of these mobile phone bills," Mr McGrath said. "It's outrageous, unacceptable and once again it shows a waste of public funds."

Last night, Mr Bruton said it was right to look at the mobile phone payments, which have been made available to all former taoisigh for a number of years. "I think the Government are right to look at every aspect of spending," he said.

Irish Independent

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