Bertie's two fingers
LUXURY: As Ministers agree on savage Budget cuts for OAPs and social welfare, they won’t give up luxury saloons that ferried them to talks
Bertie Ahern will not give up his luxury Mercedes, even though he accepts that the country is broke.
The former Taoiseach insisted to the Herald that he needs the plush S Class model for "security reasons".
And Mr Ahern is backed up all the way by the Cabinet who, despite planning for a raft of savage cuts to the old age pension and the dole, refuse to downgrade to a pooling system.
A survey of each Department by this paper found that Ministers are not willing to lose their Mercs. But they will back budget cuts that could cost the country's pensioners over €5-a-week.
Maintaining the fleet of state cars costs the taxpayer €105,000-a-week and keeps 54 senior gardai off the streets.
Fine Gael today condemned the events of earlier this week when 15 Cabinet members rolled up to Farmleigh House in separate Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Volvo cars.
"The sight of every Cabinet member arriving in their own limousine, while preparing Ireland's worst ever Budget, sent out a clear message to the general public," said FG transport spokesperson Simon Coveney.
The public also flooded radio stations with angry calls about the car system.
However, one minister who did want to be named told this newspaper: "We couldn't do our job without the cars.
"Most of them are clapped out and have massive mileage at this stage anyway so you would get nothing for them."
In spite of the country being in financial dire straits, top-of-the-range cars are provided for Government ministers along with former Taoisigh and Presidents.
The Herald contacted each Government department asking if its minister would be willing to downgrade to a cheaper model car or enter into a pooling system.
However, they replied collectively to rule out the idea and said the arrangement for chauffeur driven cars had been "in place for many decades".
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern -- who recently appeared in a controversial TV advert for a British tabloid -- said that he has no intention of giving up his car.
Mr Ahern and ministers all have full-time garda drivers which cost the taxpayer an average of €77,000 per year.
His refusal to give up the car comes as it was revealed he told a Polish newspaper that he still hopes to be President.
"I am thinking about this. Now, it's only an idea, but I wonder about running in the presidential elections.
"Still, I have a lot of time to think about this; the election is not until 2011."
Mr Ahern, who has a Mercedes S350, is costing the taxpayer €84,000 in transport expenses.
He has not taken "a recommended pay increase of €38,000" and has given up "a pension of €111,000" while he continues to be a member of the Dail, a statement issued on his behalf said.
"In the current national circumstances, Mr Ahern believes the political system does have a role to play in giving example and showing leadership as we bring about economic recovery," his spokesman said.
In a separate statement on behalf of all government ministers, a spokesperson said: "This arrangement has been in place for many decades and has been maintained by successive Governments."
The long standing arrangement "takes account of overall security requirements".
"The Government is fully aware of the costs associated with the office-holder fleet. In that context it has reduced expenditure on the fleet and, in particular, no new cars have been purchased in 2009 or 2010."
Fine Gael's Simon Coveney has slammed the defiant stance, saying his party would cut the €5.5m car budget in half. "With a pooling system, cars would only be used when they are needed. We would reduce the number of cars and drivers," he said.
The Fine Gael spokesman stressed that there should be a new code of conduct as part of a broader approach to get better value for money in the public sector.
Mr Coveney also told the Herald former Taoisigh should "apply for the use of a car, but only when they are attending political functions".
"The Government must lead by example. It is important to start with the Cabinet and decision-makers," he said, adding that the full time entitlement to car represented "an outdated, expensive service".
In a statement today, he added: "There can be no sacred cows in this crisis. That is why Fine Gael will introduce a car pooling system, where State cars are available at short notice with security-cleared drivers.
"Garda drivers will be provided to An Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and in other necessary circumstances.
"But all ministers will be encouraged to take public transport or make use of their own personal car."
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