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Varadkar ordered State car for Coveney in one of his last acts as Taoiseach

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Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney (PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney (PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney (PA)

Leo Varadkar ordered a security review for a State car and Garda driver for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in his final days as Taoiseach, Independent.ie can reveal.

In one of his last acts as Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar ensured Mr Coveney retained his taxpayer funded security detail before the new government was formed.

Mr Coveney was due to lose his car and driver after he stepped down as Tánaiste.

However, Mr Varadkar contacted Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Martin Fraser to ask for the security review in the days before he stepped down and was succeed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

But Mr Fraser did not officially ask his counterpart in the Department of Justice Aidan O’Driscoll for the review until the day after Mr Martin was appointed Taoiseach.

Mr Martin was not alerted to Mr Fraser’s decision to obtain security advice which ensured Mr Coveney retained his €200,000 a year State car and driver.

Mr O’Driscoll asked Garda Commissioner Drew Harris if it was “appropriate” for Mr Coveney to retain his security detail.

But Justice Minister Helen McEntee was not informed by Mr O’Driscoll of his decision to contact the Garda Commissioner.

A spokesperson for Ms McEntee said the Commissioner told the minister he had taken a decision on providing additional garda support for Mr Coveney but he did not tell her what the decision was.

The Foreign Affairs Minister has said he needs the service because he regularly travels to Northern Ireland.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan did not have the security service when he held the office.

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly has raised questions in the Dáil about the process surrounding the allocation of extra resources for Mr Coveney at a time when the country is facing into serious economic hardship.

During the last recession, Mr Coveney publicly denounced the use of State cars and pledged not to use one if he held office.

“If I become a minister, I will not accept a State car. I’m telling you that now. You can quote me on it,” Mr Coveney told a Young Fine Gael conference in November 2010.

State cars and Garda drivers were limited to the President, Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Justice Minister and certain senior justice officials back in 2011. Foreign Affairs ministers were not included.

Labour leader Alan Kelly challenged Mr Varadkar on the issue in the Dáil.

He said there are now five things known about how the car was arranged for Mr Coveney: "Firstly, that you made the request when you were Taoiseach for this;

"That the current Taoiseach knew nothing about it even though it was actioned on he was Taoiseach;

"The Minister for Justice knew nothing about it;

"That the government decision from 2011 regarding Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice having State cars still stands and hasn't been changed. And there is no paper trail and all of this has been done orally."

He asked: "How could you as Taoiseach in the last government make a request for a State car for a minister in a government that had not yet been formed.

"How was that constitutionally possible?"

And Mr Kelly also asked: "Did you make this request in the full knowledge that Minister Coveney would indeed be the Minister for Foreign Affairs... for a government that had not yet been formed."

Mr Varadkar replied saying: "There’s no mystery here mystery here and there's no conspiracy here and you can try to exaggerate it and all the rest of it. I'm happy to be very clear about this."

He said: "There are particular security protocols when it comes to the Minister of Foreign Affairs traveling to Northern Ireland."

Mr Varadkar said that whoever holds that role has to have a Garda car and Garda protection when they travel to the North.

"That has been security protocol for the best part of 20 years."

He said that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has usually been the Tánaiste over the last ten years "so this hasn't been an issue."

Mr Varadkar added: "But it did happen on occasion when the Minister of Foreign Affairs was not the Tánaiste that they had to have civilian drivers when they were South of the border and then also, the use of a Garda car when going to Northern Ireland and that would have been a situation the Charlie Flanagan would have dealt with."

Mr Flanagan held the role after the 2016 general election.

Mr Varadkar added: "So when I knew that I was going to be the Tánaiste and that therefore the Minister of Foreign Affairs the next government would not be the Tánaiste, I asked the secretary general of the Government to look into the matter, and decide what was appropriate.

"That was the beginning and end of my involvement in this.

"He did make enquiries and the Garda Commissioner advised that it would be appropriate for the current arrangements to be maintained."

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