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Leo Varadkar signed off on former Taoisigh special support plan four months after taking office

New documents obtained under FOI detail what would be involved in the supports.

LEO VARADKAR PERSONALLY signed off on a plan to give former Taoisigh special supports – including VIP airport facilities, increased use of state cars, and the salary of a full-time secretary – just four months after he took office.

Varadkar was told the decision would cost up to €300,000 a year if all Taoisigh took advantage of the full suite of entitlements.

Former Taoisigh include Enda Kenny, Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and John Bruton.

The move took place in October 2017 while Varadkar had only taken up office in June.

The document – obtained under FOI – explained the system of supports for former Taoisigh had been introduced in August 2001 but discontinued in March of 2012.

“It would seem reasonable that a former Taoiseach should have access to supports (administrative and otherwise) to support him/her carrying out aspects of work associated with his/her former role which remain after [their] period in office has ceased,” it said.

The memo said that the estimated cost of reintroducing the scheme would be “in the region of €300k” if all ex-Taoisigh availed of it.

“The funding requirement can be met within existing resources,” it said.

PastedImage-15680 Source: Ken Foxe

Other countries

In putting forward the proposal, the memo said that other countries had much more generous regimes in place for former prime ministers.

In the UK, former leaders can draw down a “public duties cost allowance” worth around €130,000 per annum to help fund an office and secretarial support.

In Australia, office space, phones, printing services, a car and limousine travel for official events are available while in New Zealand, ex-PMs are entitled to “unlimited free domestic flights, a chauffeur-driven limousine or a self-drive car (with a new car provided every 60,000 kilometres”.

VIP airport facilities

PastedImage-32536 Source: Ken Foxe

The re-introduced scheme in Ireland would offer support in six areas, according to the memo.

VIP airport facilities would be provided “prior to departure and on landing”. They said this would match up with what is available to the Taoiseach and former Presidents.

The memo said: “[They’re available] as part of a standing arrangement between the Department … and the Dublin Airport Authority. It is proposed to extend these facilities to former Taoisigh.”

Support when travelling abroad would also be made available, although details of what this would involve are scant in the documents.

If a former Taoiseach needed help when travelling abroad “to carry out aspects of work associated with his/her former role”, they would be put in touch with the local Embassy or Consulate to get the “appropriate supports”.

Transport arrangements for former Taoisigh were also to be enhanced as part of the plan.

The former leaders were already entitled to transport to and from “important state functions” but this would be extended to up to five other events associated with their former role during a calendar year.

The most costly part of the proposal was the provision of secretarial support to help the ex-Taoisigh with aspects of work linked to their old role.

“Salary costs will be met by the Department of the Taoiseach up to the maximum of the Higher Executive Officer … scale (currently €55,329).”

The ex-Taoisigh would be allowed to recruit, select, and appoint their own assistant and would be allowed to invoice for the costs of using a recruitment agency to find somebody suitable.

The secretarial assistant is prohibited however, from engaging in “constituency or active party political work”, according to the memo.

Instead, it would be linked to willingness to assist the government if requested in the future. 

A liaison officer for the former Taoisigh would also be appointed who could act as “a single point of contact” for all requests for support.

This would include the provision of briefing and or research material on the government’s policy position on issues of public debate.

Approval

The memo was sent to Leo Varadkar on 23 October 2017 by the department’s Secretary General Martin Fraser with a hand-written note saying: “For your approval.”

A day later, the Taoiseach signed off on it with a single word: “Approved.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the secretarial service would be useful for former taoisigh who have been asked to “assist with the UN Security Council campaign, Brexit and EU affairs, and Northern Ireland issues”. 

“It makes sense that if we have former officeholders – former taoisign and presidents – we should ask them to assist the country,” he said in the Dáil. 

“We should see them as an asset to the country, not to the government, if they are willing to continue to do things for the country”. 

The move was welcomed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. 

“It is a near universal practice in democratic states that former heads of State and heads of government receive continued support and protection after leaving office,” he told the Dáil. 

“That reflects the fact that they continue to be a potential focus for people who might want to cause harm. They also have ongoing calls from the public both here and internationally. They do not suddenly disappear from public life when they leave office.”

Martin said that the withdrawal of support from previous taoisigh in 2011 had been “both unfair and damaging, in particular to the late former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and to the late former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald”. 

In a statement, a department spokesman said: “Former taoisigh receive support in carrying out work associated with their former role which remain after their period in office has ceased.”

He said the supports were available “on request only”. The spokesman added: “It is entirely a matter for each individual former Taoiseach as to whether they avail of any of the supports available to them now or at any stage in the future.”

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About the author:

Ken Foxe  / Journalist lecturer and freelance reporter

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