The entire Cabinet will be provided with armed Garda bodyguards and high-spec cars from next week due to increasing concerns about their safety, the Irish Daily Mail can reveal.
The additional security arrangements, which will cost millions of euros extra a year, comes as senior gardaí and the Government have become increasingly concerned by the frequency of threats to politicians and by groups protesting at ministers’ homes.
Up until last year, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Justice Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister were the only minister’s allocated full State protection.
Then, three additional Cabinet ministers were provided with protection and cars.
Now, protection will be more than doubled, extended from the current seven ministers offered enhanced security to 15.
The remaining eight ministers will see two armed Garda protection officers, who are trained in the use of firearms and in high-speed driving, assigned to them, working on a shift rota.
Garda sources confirmed ‘a large number of luxury cars’ have been secured for Cabinet use and up to 40 additional gardaí have transferred to the VIP drivers’ pool.
The current cost of the ministerial pool of drivers is about €2.5 million a year which includes wages, expenses, allowances and maintenance, but does not include the civilian drivers.
The annual figure was closer to €6 million a year when all senior Cabinet ministers had the use of a Garda driver. At that time, the ministerial pool had 77 full-time drivers as well as a number of personnel on standby.
After Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, protection was extended to: Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
From next week, also to be afforded protection will be Education Minister Norma Foley, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman, Arts Minister Catherine Martin, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humpreys, Housing Minister Darragh O ‘Brien and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue.
The remainder of Cabinet ministers will receive a high specification luxury car – a Mercedes, Audi, BMW or Lexus – and a number of specially trained armed gardaí who drive the cars on shifts. An updated approximate cost was not available on Monday night.
The Irish Daily Mail revealed earlier this year that plans had been initiated to reintroduce so-called ‘Garda Drivers’ for the Cabinet on foot of a security review by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. That process will be completed when ministers drive out in their new cars next Monday. One government source said: ‘There have been too many worrying incidents with politicians in recent times and it was safest if the most high-profile politicians were provided with protection.’
However, government sources stress the decision was taken by gardaí and not the Cabinet.
A senior civil servant said the move follows a series of hostile and aggressive protests outside the homes of leading politicians, including Cabinet members.
In the wake of these protests, Commissioner Harris and the Department of Justice initiated a joint review of security.
Mr Harris recommended to Ms McEntee that Ministers Donohoe, McGrath and Donnelly should have Garda protection and this was approved in January.
The provision of full-time Garda protection for all ministers ended in 2011 when the Fine Gael/Labor coalition acted on a proposal by the then frontbench spokesman Simon Coveney.
Ironically, it emerged in 2020 that Mr Varadkar intervened to ensure Mr Coveney kept his Garda driver despite his demotion from the role of tánaiste.