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Cabinet takes steps to cut down on Mercs and perks

THE era of ministerial "Mercs and perks" came to an end yesterday as ministers walked to their weekly Cabinet meeting or were driven to Government Buildings in their own cars.

Under the new regime that kicked in on Monday, garda-driven Mercedes are being replaced with civilian drivers behind the wheels of ministers' own private cars.

It means an end to the spectacle of ministers being driven around in luxurious cars.

The last government sparked outrage last year when ministers arrived in chauffeur-driven Mercedes at a major meeting on the Budget in Farmleigh.

However, some current ministers have not yet hired civilian drivers, leaving ministers to walk or use public transport.

Several ministers are taking on former garda drivers who worked for them in the 1994-1997 rainbow coalition government.

The Government's move to get most ministers to supply their own cars and civilian drivers is expected to reduce costs 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.

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. 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.

By mid-June, former Taoisigh and Presidents will also lose their right to a garda-driven car.

Irish Independent