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We'll foot the bill for ex-Taoisigh assistants

THEY may be long out of the driving seat but Ireland's former Taoisigh will retain their secretaries at taxpayers' expense.

The perks enjoyed by the country's former leaders have been curtailed but Cowen, Ahern and FitzGerald will be entitled to keep their administrative assistants.

The government has ruled that official cars and garda drivers will no longer be provided to former Taoisigh and former Presidents, except for important State occasions.

But a budget has been set aside for Brian Cowen to hire assistants. And Garret FitzGerald is to be allocated a new secretarial assistant after his previous assistant was involved in an unfair dismissals case.



Entitled

The Department of the Taoiseach has confirmed the budget for providing secretaries to ex-Taoisigh was due to increase from €166,000 last year to €300,000 this year.

Former Taoisigh are entitled to take on two secretarial assistants for five years after they leave office and a secretary after this.

A representative for the Department of the Taoiseach said that Mr Cowen would be entitled to avail of the scheme and Mr FitzGerald had indicated he would avail of the scheme this year "having not done so for a number of years".

The cost of providing a secretary to Mr FitzGerald has reached over €300,000 since 2001. And Bertie Ahern has claimed €230,000 under the scheme since May 2008 -- he is also entitled to the services of a secretary and a parliamentary assistant as a backbench TD.

Mr FitzGerald was sued for unfair dismissal last year by his former secretary Sharon Kelly and the case was settled.

The Department of the Taoiseach refused to reveal if taxpayers' money had been used to settle the case.

Ministers, the Ceann Comhairle and Attorney General will supply their own cars and civilian drivers will be hired, as has been the case for Ministers of State for some years.

Latest figures reveal the bill for 27 cars and 54 garda drivers was nearly €11m over two years.

Under the new arrangements, garda drivers and State cars will only be retained for the President, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and the Minister for Justice and Equality for security reasons.

clairemurphy@herald.ie