Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Government Transport.

7. Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for Defence his Department's role in determining entitlement to the use of the Government jet and other Air Corps transport. [2774/94]

Minister for Defence (Mr. Andrews): The Department of Defence has no role in determining entitlement to the use of the ministerial air transport service.

The ministerial air transport service was first introduced in 1979 and has provided the following advantages over the years: (a) the service has proved to be extremely flexible where changes in departure times can be made to meet Ministers' changing timetables; (b) the availability of the aircraft for special tasks in times of crisis ensures independence of movement for Ministers and helps to guarantee national integrity. Its value has been proved during EMS, fishery and CAP negotiations and emergencies when scheduled air services could not be availed of due to Minister's unsettled schedules; (c) security is enhanced; (d) the service is less likely to be affected by industrial disputes and can operate from military bases using military navigational aids. Casement Aerodrome, which I am pleased to say has been updated in terms of infrastructure, is available should industrial action close all or any of the three State airports and (e) the special Customs arrangements usually [1472] afforded to the aircraft at foreign airports permit the speedy clearance of passengers from the airport.

Mr. Bradford: I give the Minister ten out of ten for answering a question I did not even ask. I take it from what the Minister has said and from the Taoiseach's earlier reply that the buck stops with the Taoiseach.

Mr. Andrews: No. In my responsibilities the buck stops with me but there is a shared stopping of the buck between myself and the Taoiseach.

Mr. Bradford: In relation to Air Corps transport, the Minister's Department is paying the piper although the Taoiseach appears to be calling the tune. Is the Minister concerned that the use of the Government jet and the consumption of fuel, etc., might have a negative effect on routine training and other operational matters within the Air Corps? That fear would appear to exist among certain members of the Air Corps.

Mr. Andrews: Is the Deputy asking whether the use of the Government jet interferes with regular training?

Mr. Bradford: Does it interfere to an excessive degree?

Mr. Andrews: I would have thought the reverse was the reality. We are talking about a state of the art Government jet representing this country's international interests being flown by members of the Air Corps of the highest calibre who are doing a magnificent job on behalf of the country. I would think that this would add to the quality of their knowledge of flying. I cannot understand the source of the complaints. Speaking to the officers who fly the Government jet — I have not had the opportunity of flying in it in the recent past but it is a very pleasant experience and I consider it a privilege — they see it as a significant part of their professional life. I would [1473] have thought it better to be in the air in the Government jet than on the ground.

Mr. Bradford: Does the Minister not recognise that the Air Corps operates on a limited fixed budget? Will the Minister agree that the amount of the budget currently being used on Government travel is excessive and that it results in cutbacks in other sections of the Air Corps? I recognise and fully agree with what the Minister said about the luxury of the Government jet. I had an opportunity of seeing it but, unfortunately, was unable to travel in it. I concur with the Minister's comments that it is most luxurious and I am sure is being put to good use.

Mr. Andrews: The Deputy's time will come.

Mr. Bradford: It will be a second hand jet by that time.

Mr. Andrews: The Government jet is an essential part of the Air Corps fleet and to suggest that in some way its use results in cutbacks in other areas is wrong. In the unlikely event of the Deputy's party being in power, would it abandon the use of the Government jet? That is the final test. I would like to think it would not because I see it as an essential part of the international image of the nation. It is also an essential part of the professionalism of the Air Corps because the higher the quality of the technology available to the Air Corps, the greater the capacity of the individuals concerned to achieve a high standard. The aerial wing of the Defence Forces is dealt with under a specific subhead which would not impinge on another subhead. In no circumstances do the Government jet or our helicopters and fixed wing aircraft interfere with other areas of the Defence Forces budget.