Crash figures place SF drivers in spotlight

Martin McGuinness's ministerial driver has crashed more times than the rest of Stormont ministers' drivers put together''�Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland 29th January 2010.
Martin McGuinness's ministerial driver has crashed more times than the rest of Stormont ministers' drivers put together''�Matt Mackey/Presseye.com - Press Eye Ltd - Northern Ireland 29th January 2010.
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MARTIN McGuinness’s Sinn Fein-employed chauffeurs have been involved in more car accidents while driving the deputy first minister’s vehicle than all the other Stormont ministers’ drivers put together, the News Letter can reveal.

The deputy first minister’s car — which unlike ministers from other parties is driven by Sinn Fein members rather than civil servants — has been involved in five accidents in five years.

In 2009 alone the £15,000 Skoda Superb vehicle — which among its safety features has electronic parking assistance and nine airbags — was involved in three crashes.

By contrast, first minister Peter Robinson’s car has not been involved in any accidents since the restoration of devolution in 2007.

Sinn Fein ministerial drivers have been involved in six crashes since 2007 while only one civil service driver has been involved in an accident during the period.

The revelation is likely to raise fresh questions over why Sinn Fein, alone among the five parties which make up the Stormont executive, is given special dispensation to use its own drivers for official business.

Aside from the crashes involving the deputy first minister’s Stormont vehicle, the only other accidents in the ministerial car fleet were when the driver for Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane reversed into a wall and a driver for DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson was involved in a collision at a road junction.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that half of the crashes involving Sinn Fein drivers were reported to have been either fully or partially the fault of that driver.

The other half recorded a third party as being at fault, while Mr Wilson’s driver’s accident involved “equal fault”.

On Friday the News Letter asked the office of the first and deputy minister (OFMDFM) to comment on the high number of accidents involving Mr McGuinness’s vehicle and whether it was content with the standard of driving involved.

However, despite additional queries yesterday, at the time of going to press Stormont Castle had not responded.

The News Letter also asked Sinn Fein for a response on Friday but last night a party spokesman said that it still did not have answers to the questions. However, he said that he thought Mr McGuinness had more than one driver.

The documents released suggest that most ministers have a main driver and a reserve driver.

Details of the minister whose driver was involved in each accident were initially withheld by the department of finance and personnel.

After an appeal by this newspaper the department released some more information about both the crashes and the operation of the ministerial car fleet.

However, a series of documents have still been withheld.

The department claims that it would not be in the public interest to release them, but their decision has been appealed to the Information Commissioner.