Minister hires former Fine Gael councillor as a chauffeur on wages of €630 a week
European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy has hired a former Fine Gael councillor as his ministerial driver, the Irish Independent can reveal.
Mr Murphy is paying failed local election candidate Joe O'Callaghan more than €600-a-week to chauffeur him between engagements at the taxpayer's expense.
Mr Murphy has defended his decision to hire the former councillor and insisted Mr O'Callaghan should not be prohibited from being a ministerial driver because he was once an elected representative.
"The fact that someone has been an elected public representative shouldn't preclude them from anything and he has given a long public service. I am quite strongly of the view that it should not mean you are precluded from anything," Mr Murphy said.
"The guy before him retired because he got to the required age and Joe was hired," he added.
Mr Murphy said Mr O'Callaghan was not a member of his campaign team during the last general election but admitted he was an active local Fine Gael member.
Mr O'Callaghan also confirmed he was one of two drivers chauffeuring Mr Murphy.
The former councillor, who was once a Labour Party member, said he was working for the minister for around two months but insisted the job was not a "high earner".
Ministerial drivers earn €631-a-week and work seven days on/seven days off shifts, according to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
The Coalition has spent more than €14m chauffeuring the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and ministers since 2011.
All Cabinet ministers, apart from the Justice Minister, and Ministers of State are required to provide their own car for official business but are assigned two civilian drivers.
Mr O'Callaghan, a former trade union official with Siptu, was elected to Cork City Council in 1995 and later appointed as mayor.
He left the Labour Party in 2002 after making controversial remarks about asylum seekers.
On RTÉ Radio, he called for asylum seekers who commit crimes to be deported. He also said a referendum should be held on automatic citizen rights given to children born in Ireland regardless of their parents' nationality.
A referendum on citizenship rights was held two years later and these automatic rights were removed from law.
Mr O'Callaghan joined Fine Gael not long after he left Labour and ran for the party in 2004 Local Elections but failed to be elected.
However, Mr O'Callaghan was co-opted into Cork City Council after the then Fine Gael councillor, now Senator, Colm Burke replaced Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney in the European Parliament.
Mr O'Callaghan did not get elected when he ran for Fine Gael in the 2009 Local Elections but was again co-opted on to the council two years later following the death of another councillor.
Last summer, Mr O'Callaghan also missed out on a place on the city council when he went before the electorate in Cork.
Mr Murphy hit the headlines earlier this year when the Irish Independent revealed he was charging €85-a-head for a fundraising breakfast with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to raise funds for his general election campaign.
A group of demonstrators picketed the event, which was also attended by high-profile developers Michael O'Flynn and Owen O'Callaghan.
It followed previous revelations that Mr Murphy had five court judgements lodged against him following the collapse of his business.
It was also recently revealed that Mr Murphy clocked up a €30,000 bill jetting home from Latvia on a State jet so he could vote in the Marriage Equality Referendum.
He requested use of the jet to return from the summit in Riga, as there were no commercial flights available which would allow him to arrive in time to vote in the referendum.