Ministers and ex-Taoisigh will be forced to car pool
Former Taoisigh and Dublin ministers are to lose their personal garda protection and drivers and operate a car pool service, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The sight of a line of luxury cars leaving Farmleigh last Monday has sparked a public outcry, and senior government sources have confirmed that "drastic reductions" in the cost and personnel in the ministerial fleet will be made.
But under new plans, Dublin-based ministers like Brian Lenihan, Mary Hanafin, Barry Andrews, John Gormley and Eamon Ryan and former Taoisigh will no longer have their own personal drivers and will be forced to use a pooled car service to conduct their business as ministers.
According to senior sources, the Government "accepts" that the current situation of maintaining such a large fleet of highly skilled gardai and luxury cars is "no longer justifiable", and a major clampdown will be announced as part of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan's four year-plan in two weeks' time.
At a cost of over €11m since 2008, 90 gardai form the full fleet of drivers and bodyguards to the Cabinet, the President Mary McAleese, former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern, John Bruton, Garret FitzGerald and Liam Cosgrave, former President Mary Robinson, the Attorney General Paul Gallagher and Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk.
The Sunday Independent contacted former Taoisigh John Bruton and Albert Reynolds to see if they would be willing to sacrifice their car in the national interest, but both declined to comment.
Mr Ahern caused some outrage on Thursday when he insisted he had to keep his S Class Mercedes on security grounds.
In a government statement on the issue of drivers, a spokesman said: "This arrangement has
'Government accepts that maintaining a large fleet of gardai and luxury cars is no longer justifiable'
been in place for many decades and has been maintained by successive governments. This arrangement takes account of overall security requirements.
"The Government is fully aware of the costs associated with the fleet. In that context, no new cars have been purchased in 2009 and 2010," the statement added.
Each driver costs an average of €77,000 a year, and the fleet is made up of luxury Mercedes, BMWs, Audi and Volvo cars.
Fine Gael's Simon Coveney, who obtained the costs in an answer to his parliamentary question, said that he wants to cut the cost of the fleet in half and said there should be a new code of conduct which will ensure greater value for money.
"The Government must lead by example. It is important to start with the Cabinet and decision makers. There are no sacred cows in this crisis," he said.
Last year, we reported how Taoiseach Brian Cowen had refused to take up a brand new €150,000 S Class Mercedes because it would send out the wrong message. As a result, it lay idle at Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park for over six months.