By Andrew Bushe
Old age at Aras an Uachtaran was causing problems for the taoiseach and his ministers in the late 1960s, according to previously unpublished files released by the National Archives office.
The advancing years of President Eamon de Valera, his two aging Garda drivers, and his equally ancient Rolls Royce caused a flurry of interdepartmental memos, with the Department of the Taoiseach summing up the problems.
The president’s personal driver was 67-year-old Det. Sgt. Cruise, who had been pronounced "medically unfit to drive."
Mrs. de Valera was driven by a retired 69-year-old Det. Garda Cahill, "who is generally unfit to drive."
The army refused to accept responsibility for the 20-year-old Rolls Royce because of the risk of breakdown, which could involve "danger or inconvenience."
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Use of the Rolls Royce had "mushroomed" from an average of 12 times a year in the 1950s to 40 times a year in the early 1960s and 54 times in 1968.
A reason for the concern was a planned visit by the king and queen of Belgium and the problem of what car they would use when here.
The Department of External Affairs was worried about the "somewhat frail" queen and the long journeys that would be involved.
A note on a taoiseach’s memo instructed the department should proceed on the basis that "what is good enough for the head of this state [an octogenarian] is good enough for visiting heads of state."
The file also reveals that Justice Minister Brian Lenihan had to sign a special legal instrument in 1966 to make an exception for the president’s driver, Sgt. Cruise, to remain on for force beyond the official retirement age.
Apart from the commissioner, no member of the force had been allowed serve beyond the age of 65.
Det. Sgt. Cruise had driven the president since 1932. Justice Secretary Peter Berry said the president had a "natural — considering his age and defective vision — predilection for retaining drivers who know his ways."
Protection by armed gardai was more than an "abstract interest," Berry said.
A man who had had his national loan-holding sequestered for non-payment of income tax had held the president responsible for the court decision, accosted him in the street and was sending threatening letters.
"This is not the U.S., but the fate of President Kennedy would seem to indicate that the government could fairly be criticized, even as things are now, for having the president’s protection while on the road entrusted to a man over 60 years of age," Berry said.