THE Government racked up a bill of almost €11 million to provide cars and garda drivers for ministers and former taoisigh over the last two years.
Fine Gael has criticised the cost of providing and maintaining the “Ministerial Mercs” and pledged to cut the bill by half if returned to power.
The party’s transport spokesman, Simon Coveney, said paying an average of €5.5m a year to provide a car and garda driver for every minister could not be sustained in the current economic climate.
“There can be no sacred cows when the country is in fiscal crisis, and the Government must lead by example in cutting unnecessary expenditure,” he said.
Mr Coveney pledged that Fine Gael in government would:
n Encourage ministers to take public transport or make use of their own personal car, with the option of recouping mileage
n Introduce a car-pooling system whereby state cars and security- cleared drivers would be available at short notice to ministers
n Ensure that Garda drivers are provided only to the Taoiseach, Justice Minister and in other circumstances where a requirement is determined.
The figures on the cost of providing ministerial cars came from Justice Minister Dermot Ahern in response to questions from Mr Coveney.
They showed that 27 cars were provided for ministers and other current and former office-holders in 2008, with the number falling to 26 in 2009.
In all, 54 gardaí, known as “Garda Protection Officers”, are assigned to drive and protect ministers and other office-holders.
Salary costs for the Garda Protection Officers came to €4.6m in 2008 and €4.2m in 2009.
Fuel costs came to €402,000 for the last two years, maintenance cost €286,000 and depreciation €872,000, while €509,000 was spent on replacement cars.
It made for a total bill of €10.9m over the last two years.
But given that garda salaries represented the overwhelming majority of the bill, it is questionable whether Fine Gael could actually cut it by half or simply move that portion of the bill elsewhere on the state’s books.
Garda Protection Officers no longer driving ministers would likely be reassigned within the force, meaning much of the salary costs would still be incurred.
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