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Ministers set to hand back keys for state limos

CABINET ministers will be handing back the keys to their Mercs this weekend but Bertie Ahern will keep his State car until June.

Just six weeks after being given the controversial privilege the new ministers will have to buy their own cars.

However, Ahern who has been chauffeured around since 1997, and Brian Cowen will be given another month to sort out their motoring needs.

The fleet of 12 ministerial Mercs, Audis and Toyotas -- with registrations from 2006 to 2008 -- are to be sold.

From Monday, ministers will have to drive their own cars or be driven by a civilian driver hired at the taxpayers' expense.

As with junior ministers, cabinet members may appoint two civilian chauffeurs.

"The selection of these appointees is a matter for each individual minister or minister of state.

"The salary for civilian drivers is €631.75 per week," a Department of Finance spokeswoman told the Herald.

The Department of Justice will be overseeing the handing over of the state cars, she added.

The current regime cost taxpayers €11m to employ 54 garda drivers over the past two years.

Reports revealed that some ministers were only last week interviewing for civilian drivers, raising questions as to whether they will meet the deadline.

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.

The other 12 ministers, along with the Ceann Comhairle and the Attorney General, will supply their own cars and will have civilian drivers.

The civilian drivers will come under the heading of ministerial appointments and will require the sanction of the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan.

Ex-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has until mid-June before he has to hand over his Mercedes.

All former Taoisigh, as well as former presidents, will have to do likewise.

Mr Ahern confirmed in 2003 that he did not hold a driving licence because of his use of a State car and driver for the past 20 years.

The alternative would be to take public transport or hire a civilian driver at his own expense.

Brian Cowen, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton, Garrett FitzGerald and Liam Cosgrave will also lose the perk.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the state fleet had cost €7.5m last year but the new arrangements could reduce the bill by €4m.