Ministers rehire ex-garda drivers in Mercs shake-up
MINISTERS are rehiring their former garda drivers as civilian employees to continue ferrying them around, the Irish Independent has learned.
Most cabinet members will officially lose their garda drivers today as part of the radical cut in the ministerial car fleet.
The Department of Finance did not require ministers to advertise the €35,000 per year civilian driver posts, leaving ministers to make their own selections privately.
Several ministers are taking on former garda drivers who worked for them in the 1994-1997 rainbow coalition government.
These include Finance Minister Michael Noonan, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.
Besides a salary of around €35,000, the drivers will also be entitled to their garda pensions, which are worth an average of around €38,000 to the 9,651 retired members of the force currently receiving them.
But they won't receive a second public service pension for their work as civilian drivers, under ministerial guidelines published by the Department of Finance.
Ministers have the option of buying a "ministerial Merc" out of their own pocket -- but Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is going for a more understated model. He is leasing a Skoda for his civilian drivers -- each minister has two -- to transport him around.
Other ministers have not yet finalised the contracts for their drivers.
This means Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton will have to take a taxi to Dublin Airport today to attend a conference in Holland.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney plans to use public transport or drive himself until he recruits his civilian drivers.
Ministerial guidelines give ministers freedom to hire whoever they choose as their civilian drivers -- although the appointments must be approved by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Mr Noonan and Mr Howlin.
The Government's move to get most ministers to supply their own cars and hire civilian drivers is expected to reduce the cost to the taxpayer from around €5.5m to €3.5m.
The biggest saving is in wages -- two civilian drivers can be hired for each minister at an annual cost of €70,000 whereas the cost of two garda drivers would be around €154,000 per year.
Each civilian driver will work seven days on and seven days off.
The Government has also decided that former Taoisigh Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern, John Bruton, Albert Reynolds, Garret FitzGerald and Liam Cosgrave will lose their garda drivers from June 16 -- except for "important state occasions".
The size of the state car fleet will shrink from 27 to six, with only President Mary McAleese, Mr Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Director of Public Prosecutions James Hamilton and Chief Justice John L Murray retaining their official cars and garda drivers.
Up to 20 of the 54 garda drivers assigned to ministerial duties are expected to be retained for this work.
The Department of Justice said it would be a matter for An Garda Siochana to organise the sale of unwanted cars in the ministerial fleet -- some of which have more than 300,000 miles on the clock.
The fleet includes seven Mercedes, seven Audi A6s, three BMW 5 Series, four Lexus cars, two Toyota Prius hybrids, two Fords and one Citroen C6.
"The ultimate disposal of these cars is a matter for An Garda Siochana and is done by way of public auction the same way as it disposes of other cars in the garda fleet," a spokesman said.