Cars for former taoisigh cost state €800k
By Mary Regan, Political Reporter - Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - Irish Examiner
The perk of full-time garda-driven state cars for four former Taoisigh cost the taxpayer almost €800,000 last year.
The figure is set to rise to almost €1 million this year as a car has been made available to former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton, who has returned from Washington where he served as EU Ambassador to the United States.
This will bring to five the number of former leaders who avail of the privilege, which comes on top of their pensions ranging from €90,000 to €100,000 a year.
They include Bertie Ahern and Albert Reynolds, both former Fianna Fáil leaders, as well as Fine Gael’s Garret FitzGerald and Liam Cosgrave, who left office 32 years ago.
The Labour Party is calling for a phasing out of the privilege, which costs an average of €200,000 a year for each former Taoiseach, who is entitled to avail of it for life.
The cost of €794,002 last year includes maintenance and fuel, salaries of garda drivers and cost of new cars purchased in 2008 where appropriate, according to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern in response to a Dáil question.
The cost of providing 73 full-time gardaí as drivers for serving ministers, the President, former Taoisigh and the country’s senior law officers is estimated to be more than €2.1m.
But the Garda Press Office refuses to disclose the costs of salaries or overnight accommodation and subsistence claims for members of the force who stay away from home when chauffeuring officials.
Labour spokeswoman on finance Joan Burton said there is no longer a need for the provision of the 24-hour service for former Taoisigh.
"The security situation in Ireland is not what it was 20 to 30 years ago when these practices built up," she said.
Ms Burton said the Government is "in no position to lecture ordinary people on budget cuts" when such perks are still made available to former office holders.
"I think a much more economical approach should be worked out. We should adopt a policy in this country where cars are provided for a period of time after a Taoiseach leaves office but not for life," said Ms Burton.
She said former Taoisigh should only be entitled to state cars and drivers when they are on official business or should get an annual car allowance similar to junior ministers.
Last month, former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald said his pension and that of other ex-taoisigh should be cut.
"Ministers’ salaries have gone down 10% and they haven’t cut my pension. Every time the salaries went up, the pension went up. Now they have gone down, my pension should go down. I have said that several times and they didn’t listen to me," he told the Irish Examiner.
It would appear that “Life is Good” for politicians in Ireland long after they leave office. Some of them continue to have their noses stuck firmly in the “public trough” for life.