Tuesday 12 December 2017

Minister defends hiring ex-FG councillor as €600-a-week driver


Joe O'Callaghan
Joe O'Callaghan

EUROPEAN Affairs Minister Dara Murphy has hired a former Fine Gael councillor as his ministerial driver, the Herald can reveal.

Mr Murphy is paying failed local election candidate Joe O'Callaghan more than €600 a week to chauffeur him between engagements at the taxpayer's expense.

Mr Murphy yesterday defended his decision to hire the former councillor and insisted Mr O'Callaghan should not be prohibited from being a ministerial driver because he was once an elected representative.

"The fact that someone has been an elected public representative shouldn't preclude them from anything and he has given a long public service. I am quite strongly of the view that it should not mean you are precluded from driving," Mr Murphy said.

"The guy before him retired because he got to the required age and Joe was hired," he added

Mr Murphy said Mr O'Callaghan was not a member of his campaign team during the last general election but admitted he was an active local Fine Gael member.

Mr O'Callaghan also confirmed he was one of two drivers chauffeuring Minister Murphy.

The former councillor, who was once a Labour Party member, said he was working for the minister for around two months but insisted the job was not a "high earner".

Mr O'Callaghan left the Labour Party in 2002 after making controversial remarks about asylum seekers. He joined Fine Gael not long after he left Labour and ran for the party in 2004 local elections but failed to get elected.

However, Mr O'Callaghan was co-opted into Cork City Council after the then-Fine Gael councillor, now senator, Colm Burke replaced Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney in the European Parliament.

Mr O'Callaghan did not get elected when he ran for Fine Gael in the 2009 local elections but was again co-opted on to the council two years later following the death of another councillor.

Last year, Mr O'Callaghan also missed out on a place on the city council when he went before the electorate in Cork.

The Herald recently revealed how his boss Minister Murphy clocked up a €30,000 bill jetting home from Latvia on a State jet so he could vote in the Marriage Equality and Presidential Age referendums.

Mr Murphy requested use of the jet to return from the summit in the capital Riga as there were no commercial flights available which would allow him to arrive in time to vote.

The minister also hit the headlines when it emerged he was charging €85-a-head for a fundraising breakfast with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to raise money for his general election campaign.

A group of demonstrators picketed the event, which was also attended by high-profile developers Michael O'Flynn and Owen O'Callaghan.

It followed previous revelations that Mr Murphy had five court judgements lodged against him following the collapse of his business.

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