President Mary McAleese: full-time garda driver

PROVIDING security for President Mary McAleese is costing at least €650,000 per year, with half a dozen soldiers and a number of gardaí tasked with her full-time protection.

Six soldiers, including four highly-paid officers and two non-commissioned officers, are allocated full-time to duties at Áras an Uachtaráin.

The President also has use of a full-time garda driver, and has in the past faced criticism for her use of car services, after it emerged that a state car was being used to drive her daughter Emma to work on occasions.

The Department of Defence has confirmed that six soldiers are permanently att­ached to the Áras for a variety of reasons including security and a ceremonial role.

The exact cost of the service is unclear but military sources said that even paying salaries for the six would cost in excess of €400,000 annually.

The Department said: "The members of the Defence Forces assigned to duties at Áras an Uachtaráin consist of four officers and two non-commissioned officers.

"Their duties include ceremonial duties, acting in a representative capacity on behalf of the President at certain events, the provision of armed security and a 24-hour duty contact facility at Áras an Uachtaráin and such other related duties as may be required from time to time."

Gardaí have declined to give details of how many of their officers are allocated for the protection of McAleese, citing "security concerns".

A statement from the Department of Justice said: "The policing function of the Garda Síochána necessarily involves protection duties, including in relation to the Office of the President.

"It is not the practice, and it would be contrary to the public interest, to comment on the details of such protection duties. Operational decisions in relation to the fulfilment of protection duties are a matter for the Garda authorities."

However, the Sunday Tribune has been told that at least two officers are involved in providing car services for the President each day.

Officers from Cabra garda station, the closest one to Áras an Uachtaráin, are also utilised to monitor the grounds and perimeter of the President's estate on a daily basis, sources said.

The security measures are in stark contrast to what is available to Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his predecessor Bertie Ahern. Both men preferred to operate without security and very often were only accompanied by a single officer, usually their garda driver.