Ministers in secret plan to hog our busy bus lanes
Travel perk for those on 'official business' reintroduced before summer break
Published 01/08/2011 | 05:00
CABINET ministers have secretly given themselves special permission to drive in bus lanes, the Irish Independent has learned.
The perk for ministers "on official business" was agreed last week before Fine Gael and Labour ministers headed off on their summer holidays.
Ministers lost the right to use bus lanes when they gave up their state cars and garda drivers immediately after the new coalition Government came to power in February.
Instead, they have to hire civilian drivers to drive their own personal cars.
The removal of the garda drivers meant ministers' cars no longer had permission to breach certain traffic laws, such as driving in bus lanes.
Only Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Justice Minister Alan Shatter kept their state cars and garda drivers, for security reasons.
The reform of the state-car provision will save €4m a year and was supposed to mark an end to the era of so-called "mercs and perks".
The change meant ministers had to factor in traffic delays when dashing to meetings and engagements.
But on the same day as they signed off on the €100 household service charge and reforms of wage rates for low-paid workers, ministers secretly agreed to allow their civilian cars with civilian drivers to use bus lanes.
The decision was not announced by the Government after the Cabinet's final meeting before the summer break last Tuesday.
The decision will apply to senior ministers, two junior ministers who sit at the Cabinet and the Ceann Comhairle.
In response to queries, the Department of Transport confirmed the formal decision was taken by the Cabinet last week.
A spokesman said there was a requirement for a decision to be made and that was done.
"The Government has agreed to continue to allow ministerial cars use bus lanes on official business.
"This is a continuation of the pre-existing position whereby government ministers were in a position to use bus lanes on official business as they were driven by members of the gardai.
"As the majority of government ministers are now driven by civilian drivers, this decision was required to allow the continuation," the spokesman said.
"This decision only applies to members of the Government, ministers of state who attend government meetings and the Ceann Comhairle. Use of the bus lane is only for ministers on official business," the spokesman added.
The permission will be officially granted by a simple ministerial order to the Road Traffic Act to include ministers' cars in the list of vehicles that can use bus lanes, along with fire brigade vehicles, ambulances and garda cars, which use them in the line of duty.
Garda drivers and state cars were retained for security reasons for the President, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, the Justice Minister, the Chief Justice and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The eight remaining Fine Gael cabinet ministers and four Labour cabinet ministers do not have state cars and neither do the so-called super juniors -- junior ministers who sit at the cabinet table -- the government chief whip and the housing minister.