Government ministers have had the right to order gardaí to drive them to work events in “emergencies” since the summer of 2012, meaning other cases similar to the controversy surrounding European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy may have occurred during the Coalition’s lifetime.
Officials confirmed that the protocol was agreed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and then justice minister Alan Shatter three years ago, just months after a high-profile decision to cancel Garda drivers to free up vital crime-fighting resources.
The protocol states that, in the event of an emergency such as a car breakdown, a minister can request that gardaí take a vehicle off duty in order to drive the politician to their destination.
While the protocol was meant to be limited to senior cabinet members, junior ministers can also take advantage of the situation when they are representing the country at certain events.
The measure has been in place since 2012. However, Government officials last night refused to clarify how many ministers have availed of the previously unknown support.
The existence of the protocol was highlighted by European Affairs Minister Dara Murphy yesterday as he continued to defend his decision to contact gardaí for help after his car broke down outside Mitchelstown while travelling to Dublin Airport earlier this month.
Speaking on RTE radio’s This Week programme, the Cork North Central TD — who will learn this evening if he has been chosen by the party as the constituency’s general election candidate — said: “I believe that is the protocol, if ministers have no alternative the gardaí should be called.”
Mr Murphy told the programme he “regrets if people feel I made the wrong call”, but defended his attempts to find alternative transportation.
At the weekend, Tánaiste Joan Burton and Labour’s communications minister Alex White said the decision to drive Mr Murphy 214km from Mitchelstown to Dublin Airport after his car broke down at 3.30am for a 6.40am Sunday flight to meetings in Brussels was inappropriate.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said yesterday what happened was wrong, as “burglaries are two a penny now” and rural Garda resources are already over-stretched.
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