Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Air Corps Flying Hours.

10. Mr. E. Byrne asked the Minister for Defence the total number of flying hours undertaken by Air Corps aircraft, fixed wing or helicopter, during 1993 and in 1994 to date; in respect of these, if he will break the figures down for search and rescue operations, Ministerial air transport services and other; the total Air Corps budget; and the proportion allocated to each of these three headings... [2619/94]

Mr. Andrews: The Air Corps operates a fleet of 38 aircraft, 23 of which are fixed wing, the other 15 are helicopters.

The total flying time of all Air Corps aircraft in 1993 was 9,854 hours. The total flying time of all aircraft in the period January 1994 to September 1994, inclusive, was 6,928 hours.

In 1993, the Air Corps carried out 89 search and rescue missions involving 122 flying hours. In the first nine months of this year, 52 such missions have been carried out involving 80 flying hours.

In relation to the ministerial air transport service, 263 missions were carried out in 1993 with 227 missions completed in the first nine months of 1994. The respective flying hours involved were 1,035 and 948.

The amount provided in the Defence Estimate 1994 in respect of maintenance, support services and fuel for all Air Corps aircraft is £860,000. It is not the practice to allocate this amount to individual operations. More detailed [1480] information on costings is being provided in reply to a separate question for answer today.

Mr. E. Byrne: I thank the Minister for his detailed reply. Does he share my concern at the practice not to break down the figures for search and rescue operations, ministerial air transport services and the total Air Corps budget? Does he agree that the public perception is that Ministers and junior Ministers have only to click their fingers to have an aircraft brought almost to their doorstep? When one considers that the Taoiseach attended two Fianna Fáil fundraising dinners in Minneapolis, the equestrian games in the Netherlands and——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Let us have relevant questions.

Mr. E. Byrne: These questions are relevant in the context of spending taxpayers' money——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Let us have relevant questions, please.

Mr. E. Byrne: ——and whether expenditure on the ministerial jet is eating into the funding available for the other sectors of the Air Corps. As the Taoiseach seemingly used the jet to attend a GAA match — there is also a reference to funerals and weddings — will the Minister agree that the public perception that the ministerial jet is being abused more by this Government than any other Government——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is making a speech which is not in order at Question Time.

Mr. E. Byrne: When will he give the House information on the cost of the ministerial air transport services——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I must call the Minister. Deputy Byrne cannot disregard the Chair. Question Time is not appropriate to speechmaking.

[1481] Mr. E. Byrne: With all due respect to the Chair. I am asking relevant questions.

Mr. Andrews: The Deputy follows a particularly joyless philosophy, the Democratic Left philosophy. Neither this Government nor any other Coalition Government has ever been in the finger clicking business. We have never had the Government jet made available to us by clicking our fingers; we follow the proper procedures and proceed in a good mannered and decent fashion.

With regard to alleged abuse of the Government jet by the Taoiseach, Deputy Byrne seems to want the Taoiseach to remain permanently in Ireland——

Mr. E. Byrne: It is not appropriate to use the jet to attend GAA matches, funerals and weddings.

Mr. Andrews: ——and, on the occasions he has to go abroad, to use a slow boat or some such vessel. The Taoiseach is a busy man and it is very important that he, as the chief executive of this country, presents himself to other nations. He has done this extremely well and in so doing has attracted much business to this country. He has also availed of the opportunity to explain his involvement in the peace process. If he has to use the Government jet to do this then so be it. The suggestion that the Government jet is being used to attend funerals or football matches fuels begrudgery.

Mr. E. Byrne: Is it a fact?

Mr. Bradford: It was used——

Mr. Andrews: It is empty, meaningless and mean rhetoric which gives rise to a false perception.

Mr. E. Byrne: Is it a fact?

Mr. Andrews: That is what it is intended to do.

[1482] Mr. E. Byrne: Is it a fact? Will the Minister answer my question?

Mr. Andrews: It is wrong, mean and groundless rhetoric which gives rise to much instability in society. If the Deputy has a genuine case in mind I will be pleased to address it.

Mr. E. Byrne: I am asking if the jet is used for this purpose.

Mr. Andrews: An urbi et orbi condemnation of the use of the Government jet is not fair.

Deputy Byrne rose.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Sorry, Deputy, under Standing Order 36 (3) the Chair is obliged to divide the remaining time for ordinary questions between Defence and the Marine. I am, therefore, obliged——

Mr. E. Byrne: With all due respect, I have never seen the Chair act in such biased way that a Deputy is not allowed to ask a second supplementary question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I reject that allegation. I will read the Standing Order——

Mr. E. Byrne: The record will show that Deputies who put down Priority Questions are allowed to ask two supplementaries.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: ——if the Deputy will allow me.

Mr. E. Byrne: The Chair's predecessors allowed an extra ten-12 minutes.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Under Standing Order 36(3) the Chair is obliged to divide the remaining time for ordinary questions between Defence and the Marine. I do not have any other choice in the matter. I call on the Minister to respond to Question No. 31.