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'No mystery': Tánaiste says Foreign Affairs Minister always needs Garda transport when travelling to NI

Varadkar said it hasn’t been an issue because usually the Tánaiste also hold the position of Foreign Affairs Minister.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Tanaiste Simon Coveney, 31 January 2020.
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Tanaiste Simon Coveney, 31 January 2020.
Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Jul 30th 2020, 12:44 PM

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has told the Dáil there is “no mystery” and “no conspiracy” around how the decision was reached that Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney should get a State car and two Garda drivers.

A controversy has been brewing over former Tánaiste Coveney keeping his State car, at the cost of €200,000 per year. It was decided in 2011 that only the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice would be granted access to a State car with a full-time garda driver. 

Last night, it was revealed that former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a request for a State car for his party colleague; this came after the current Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil that the decision was made before he became Taoiseach.

Varadkar told the Dáil that it has long been security protocol that Minister for Foreign Affairs needs Garda transport when going to Northern Ireland.

When the Minister for Foreign Affairs travels to Northern Ireland, garda protection is required, said Varadkar.

They are met at the border by the PSNI and escorted throughout their visit, he added.

“That has been the security protocol for 20 years,” he said.

He said it hasn’t been an issue because usually the Tánaiste also hold the position of Foreign Affairs Minister. It was an issue when Charlie Flanagan held the job, and he had to switch cars at border, Varadkar told the Dáil. 

When Varadkar knew that he would be holding the role as Tánaiste, he asked the secretary general to “look into it”, he said.

He said his intervention ended there, but added that the Garda Commissioner said a State car for Coveney was appropriate.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has criticised the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s involvement in a State car being provided for his party colleague and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, McDonald said: “The Minister for Foreign Affairs has an important job to do – but it does not require him having a car and a driver at the cost of €200,000 per annum.”

She said that it seemed “extraordinary” the way this was “teed up” for Coveney.

“It seems the former Taoiseach now Tánaiste made the running on it, and it seems the current Taoiseach and future Tánaiste was left in the dark on it.”

When asked whether it was a storm in a teacup, McDonald said that it was “public money, so that that makes it a serious issue”.

You need Garda attention and protection if there is a direct threat or a menace to you, absolutely. And that applies to every, every citizen and everybody on public duty, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

“I’m not disputing the fact that the man might need a driver, and that’s that’s fair enough,” she said, but added that it should be paid out from the Fine Gael party’s coffers, rather than using public money.

“The Gardaí Síochána provide security, or the PSNI north of the border – we’re talking here about the facility of having a car and being driven.”

“I think this points to the fact that this is a very disorganised, very chaotic, very shambolic government,” she concluded.

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In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that “The allocation for Garda resources is a matter for the Garda Commissioner.”

Earlier this month, Kelly hit out at the decision over the car. In an interview the TheJournal.ie, Kelly said Coveney looking for a car “is embarrassing”.

“In the middle of a pandemic it’s bloody well embarrassing. He should be embarrassed and ashamed.. it’s a joke. And in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis,” he said.

- with reporting from Christina Finn

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