It's end of the road for 'Mercs and perks'
Published 16/03/2011 | 05:00
FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern faces having to sit a driving test after losing his garda-driven State car in last night's overhaul of ministerial travel.
In 2003, Mr Ahern confirmed that he did not hold a driving licence due to his almost continuous use of a State car and driver for the past 20 years.
He could not be contacted for comment last night.
It is understood Mr Ahern first got a driving licence in the 1970s but allowed it to lapse and it is no longer valid.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter will write to Mr Ahern and all former Taoisigh and presidents today about the decision to remove their official car and garda driver in three months as part of a move to save €4m a year.
Senior and junior ministers, the Ceann Comhairle and Attorney General will now have to use their own cars or buy new cars out of their own pockets and hire civilian drivers.
Under the current system, junior ministers use their own cars and each department pays for a civilian driver and provides a mileage allowance. The salary for the driver is in the region of €30,000.
Garda drivers and state cars will be retained only for the President, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and the Justice Minister, for security reasons. The Chief Justice and the current Director of Public Prosecutions will also retain their cars.
The overhaul spells an end to the era of "Mercs and perks".
Former Taoisigh such as Mr Ahern and Brian Cowen will now have to make applications for use of an official car for "important state occasions".
Mr Ahern now faces having to employ a driver out of his own pocket, using public transport or sitting a driving test to travel around the country.
Fine Gael's original plans for carpooling between former Taoisigh, former Presidents and current ministers were scrapped yesterday.
Under the old system, a ministerial car cost around €280,000 per minister every year in salary costs, fuel and maintenance.
The changes will cut multimillion costs in half -- largely because garda salaries used to take up 84pc of the costs. The bill between 2008 and 2009 was around €11m.
The Department of Justice previously implemented a rule of replacing vehicles which are two years old or have in excess of 100,000 miles on the clock.
But none of the cars has been replaced since 2008, when 11 new vehicles cost €509,675.
The new arrangements will come into effect for ministers by May 1, and in three months in the case of former Taoisigh and Presidents.