Thursday 12 December 2019

It's the bus for Bertie as FG vows to axe all ministerial cars

Fionnan Sheahan

FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern can start taking the bus if Fine Gael gets into power, as the party will remove his full-time state car and driver.

Following the example of new British prime minister David Cameron, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has promised to bring in a ministerial car pool to cut the €5m bill for the perk.

Mr Cameron told his ministers to "take the Tube" (the London Underground) and Mr Kenny will also tell ministers to take public transport or drive their own cars, where possible.

Fine Gael said the same rule would apply to former Taoisigh, such as Mr Ahern, who would have to apply for use of a car and driver on specific occasions -- and only get one if it is available.

The party pledged to halve the cost to the taxpayer of providing ministerial cars. Only the Taoiseach and Justice Minister in a Fine Gael-led government would be guaranteed a garda car and driver all the time for security reasons.

Mr Ahern famously allowed his driving licence to lapse while he was Taoiseach but appeared guaranteed to have a driver and car provided for the rest of his life.

The taxpayer spends around €84,000 a year providing the former Taoiseach with a state car and driver. But the furore over his decision to be filmed in a cupboard for a newspaper TV ad sparked a call by former University of Limerick president Ed Walsh for Mr Ahern's state car to be taken off him.


Mr Ahern was also criticised by opposition parties last year for using his state car to travel to signings of his biography.

Figures compiled by Fine Gael transport spokesman Simon Coveney revealed that the 27 ministerial cars and 54 garda drivers cost €11m in the past two years.

Proposing to halve this cost, Fine Gael's new public sector reform plan says that in government the party will:

  • Encourage ministers and junior ministers to take public transport or make use of their own personal car, giving them mileage costs like TDs and senators.
  • Bring in a car-pooling system, where state cars are available at short notice with security-cleared drivers.
  • Ensure garda drivers are only provided to the Taoiseach and the Justice Minister, and in other circumstances where a requirement is determined.

Fine Gael confirmed former Taoisigh would be included in this arrangement but not former Presidents, who would retain existing privileges as former Heads of State.

Mr Coveney said the present cost was "unjustified and unsustainable" and the "sense of entitlement" had to end.

"There can be no sacred cows when the country is in fiscal crisis, and the Government must lead by example in cutting unnecessary expenditure.

In government, Fine Gael will ensure that 'Mercs and Ministers' will no longer be automatically associated.

"While the savings will not make a dramatic impact on the Exchequer, it will send out a clear message that reform in the public service is starting from the top down," Mr Coveney said.

Irish Independent

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