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Government spent almost €3 million on chartered flights to send Irish troops abroad

The revelation comes amid criticism of the lack of a troop-carrying aircraft.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE DEPARTMENT OF Defence spent almost €3m in a five year period renting aircraft and on civilian flight tickets to ferry Irish troops to peacekeeping missions across the world, according to newly-revealed documents.

The chartering of the civilian aircraft, along with pilots and crew, was utilised to transport military personnel because the Irish Air Corps do not have the capability to transport large amounts of soldiers.

The documents from the Department of Defence reveal how the money was spent on six UN missions and one EU mission. 

The Journal initially lodged a Freedom of Information request seeking details of the government’s spend on chartered and commercial flights across all departments. 

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) refused the request, insisting no such records were available.

However, data covering flights organised and paid for by the Department of Defence was released to Kildare South TD Cathal Berry on behalf of Simon Coveney, the defence minister, in an answer to a parliamentary question. 

This database shows that flights to and from UN and EU peacekeeping missions cost €2.7m over a five-year period from 2016 to 2020.

This included the leasing or chartering of aircraft and, according to a Defence Forces source, also included payments for flight tickets. 

Berry has said that the spend could have been much higher but for an agreement with the United Nations for it to cover the cost of half of the flights annually to and from certain missions.

Berry, who is a former officer in the Irish Defence Forces, had sought details in light of the growing disquiet around why the Air Corps does not have a long-distance heavy lift capability. 

“The biggest issue here is that the Government are refusing to fund an internalised air craft capability – which is very hard to understand because it would save a fortune in the longer term.

“I would call on the State to look at reducing cost by improving the capability of Air Corps to provide this cover. 

“This should be a whole of Government approach. The people are there to do the job and it should be operated by the Air Corps.

Cathal Berry Cathal Berry, TD, has called repeatedly for funding for a long distance, heavy lift Air Corps operated aircraft.

“One example here is that the HSE is paying a private company more than €2m annually for a medically equipped aircraft to sit at Dublin Airport just in case there is a need to ferry a sick patient. The Air Corps does the same mission repeatedly through the year with in its allocated budget.

“In December the Department of Foreign Affairs paid money to repatriate Irish citizens via Morocco.

“Chartering flights on an ad hoc basis is costing massive money across the Government simply because it is an immediate need they didn’t plan for and to get the quickest provider it costs money.

The key message here is that there is a way to save fortune on this issue and that is to properly fund this capability in the public service.

Last year, The Journal revealed that a leasing firm Seraph Aviation Group had offered the Department of Defence two second hand long distance, heavy lift aircraft.

This offer was refused by the Department

Irish Army Ranger Wing operators and diplomats who travelled to Kabul to rescue Irish citizens last year were also forced to hitch a ride to and from Afghanistan on board French and Finnish aircraft. 

There was also the case of Irish troops’ departure from UNIFIL in Lebanon being delayed due to concerns over Covid-19. 

The UN covers an “overseas allowance payment” for troops serving on behalf of the international body, while their wages are paid by the Irish Government.

There have been occasions, as documented on Defence Forces social media channels, when the Air Corps used aircraft such as the Government jet to ferry small numbers of troops from missions. 

However in most instances the troops travelled either on commercially operated flights or on chartered aircraft. 

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The following is a spreadsheet breakdown of the spend:

Screenshot (97) A breakdown of the cost of commercially chartered flights and air travel tickets to and from Irish peacekeeping missions. Source: Cathal Berry TD

The UN missions mentioned in the answer to Berry’s parliamentary question are:

  • UNDOF in the Golan Heights on the Syria Border
  • UNIFIL in Lebanon
  • UNTSO in the Middle East
  • MONUSCO operation in Congo
  • KFOR a joint UN/NATO operation in Kosovo
  • MINRUSO special forces detachment in Mali/Western Sahara and the UN Headquarters in New York.

The European Union missions are in Mali training local troops to confront Islamic Terror groups and the EU BiH operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina which is monitoring the situation in the former Yugoslavia. 

‘Dangerously inadequate’

A spokesperson for the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers said the lack of funding of the Air Corps was putting the Irish people at risk. 

“Government spending on Defence, the lowest in the EU by any identifiable metric, is dangerously inadequate. 

“We must never apologise for the maintenance and resourcing of the State’s insurance policy. Enhanced capability ensures the protection, health, safety and wellbeing of our personnel, it inspires pride in the service and improves retention.

“Critical enablers possessed by normal military forces like airlift are not only logistical and strategic assets, but they also enhance the safety and wellbeing of our personnel by ensuring they can be deployed and recovered from overseas missions in a safe and timely manner.

“This is even before we look at the value for money aspect – airlift can be a national asset, not just a military one. The arguments against investing in this most basic national security requirement are baseless,” the spokesperson said. 

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