Senior ministers to be assigned garda drivers amid safety concerns

Minister Helen McEntee refused to be drawn on the issue on Sunday, noting the report has not been brought to the cabinet yet
Senior ministers to be assigned garda drivers amid safety concerns

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD arrives for a cabinet meeting at Government Buildings on Merrion Street, Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

All senior cabinet ministers are to be assigned a Garda driver over safety concerns.

A high-level security review, accepted by the Minister of Justice recommended that all 15 Cabinet ministers should receive around the clock protection from an armed garda.

Minister Helen McEntee refused to be drawn on the issue on Sunday, noting the report has not been brought to the cabinet yet.

"So until it's brought to cabinet. I'm not going to comment on this any further," she said.

However, government sources have confirmed that all cabinet-level ministers will now be assigned an armed garda driver, confirming the Irish Examiner story in December flagging the move

It is the first time in 11 years that ministers will have had Garda drivers. The entitlement had been withdrawn as an austerity measure.

The close protection officers would work one week on and one week off - meaning that two gardaí would be assigned to each minister.

The President, Chief Justice and Director of Public Prosecutions are the only other people who retain a State car with a full-time garda driver.

The move comes following a spate of sometimes hostile protests outside the homes of leading politicians, including members of the Cabinet.

On foot of those protests, a joint review of security was initiated by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and the Department of Justice.

It is understood the move was not subject to a Cabinet decision but done on the strength of the recommendation by the Garda Commissioner.

Mr Harris recommended to Justice Minister Helen McEntee that the three ministers should cease to use civilian drivers and their own cars and instead have Garda protection. That recommendation has been approved.

The cost of the ministerial pool of drivers is about €2.5m a year, which includes wages, expenses, allowances and maintenance. 

It was running closer to €6m a year when all senior ministers had a garda driver. The ministerial pool at that stage amounted to 77 full-time drivers plus a number of standby personnel.

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