Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, believes safety concerns validate this switch from civilian drivers to Gardaí.
A recommendation from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will see members of the cabinet receive state cars and drivers for the first time since 2011.
Virgin Media reporter Gavan Reilly shared the news on Twitter, explaining that “Until a Cabinet decision in 2011, all ministers were provided with a car and driver; after 2011 cars were provided only for Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice (as well as President, Chief Justice and DPP). Others were given drivers but had to source their own car.”
However, as revealed by the Irish Examiner earlier this year, Garda protection has been extended to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath, and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, after a security review by Harris following a number of protests outside ministers’ homes.
Garda protection was later extended to Social Affairs Minister, Heather Humphreys, but a proposal to extend protection to all ministers was paused due to a standoff with civilian drivers regarding severance arrangements.
As many as 40 Garda officers have been recruited to staff a driver pool for ministers, with a number of new luxury cars procured for these ministers as well. These successful Garda officers have been told they must be ready to take up their new duties from the first week in October.
However, a political decision must first be made. The matter has gone from the Department of Justice to the Taoiseach’s office for final approval.
More than 20 civilian drivers will be offered alternative employment as a result of this proposal, as their contracts do not contain a break clause. The civilian contracts state they are ‘coterminous’ with their minister – meaning they cannot be laid off unless their full contract is paid out.
A number of civilian drivers who had worked under contract with Mr Donohoe, Mr McGrath, and Mr Donnelly have been reassigned to administrative duties in the Department of Social Protection, since these ministers were assigned Garda protection.
The cost of the ministerial drivers is about €2.5 million per year, which includes wages, expenses, allowances, and maintenance. This cost was running closer to €6 million a year when all senior ministers had a Garda driver. The ministerial pool at that stage amounted to 77 full-time and relief drivers.
Public reaction to this recommendation has been severe, with Irish people taking to Twitter to share their outrage.
“Maybe if they did their job properly and stopped making everything worse, they wouldn’t need ‘protection.’ More money down the drain,” one Twitter user commented.
Another added: “They’re paid more than enough to cover the cost of this themselves. That money could be better used to ensure every child in the state has public transport to school that needs it.”
Discussing the insensitivity to the Irish public who are currently feeling the effects of a cost of living crisis, energy crisis, and housing crisis, one user said: “What about the neglect in the mental health services…. children being neglected left right and center. Families also having to choose weather to eat or to heat…. its not good enough.”