THE DEPARTMENT OF Defense has spent nearly €3 million over a five-year period on aircraft rentals and on civilian flights to transfer Irish troops to peacekeeping missions around the world, according to newly revealed documents.
The chartering of the civilian aircraft, along with pilots and crew, has been used to transport military personnel as the Irish Air Corps is unable to carry large numbers of soldiers.
Defense Ministry documents show how the money was spent on six UN missions and one EU mission.
The news initially filed a Freedom of Information Request to request details of government spending on charter and commercial flights in all departments.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) denied the request, claiming no such documents were available.
However, data on flights organized and paid for by the Ministry of Defense was released to Kildare South TD Cathal Berry on behalf of the Defense Secretary Simon Coveney in a response to a parliamentary question.
This database shows that flights to and from UN and EU peacekeeping missions cost 2.7 million euros over a five-year period from 2016 to 2020.
This included leasing or chartering aircraft and, according to an armed forces source, also payments for airline tickets.
Berry has said the expenses could have been much higher without an agreement with the United Nations to cover the cost of half of the flights a year to and from certain missions.
Berry, a former officer in the Irish Defense Forces, had been seeking details in light of growing concerns about why the Air Corps lacks the capacity for long-range heavy transport.
“The biggest problem here is that the government is refusing to fund an internalized aircraft capability – which is very hard to understand because it would save a fortune in the longer run.
“I would like to call on the state to cut costs by improving the ability of the Air Corps to provide this coverage.
“This should be a whole government approach. The people are there to do the job and it should be run by the Air Corps.
Cathal Berry, TD, has repeatedly solicited funding for long-haul aircraft operated by Air Corps.
“For example, the HSE pays a private company more than €2 million annually for a medically equipped aircraft to sit at Dublin Airport in case a sick patient needs to be transported. The Air Corps repeatedly performs the same mission with the allocated budget throughout the year.
“In December, the Foreign Office paid money to repatriate Irish citizens via Morocco.
“Creating flights on an ad hoc basis is costing the entire government a huge amount of money simply because it’s an immediate need that they didn’t count on and getting the fastest provider costs money.
The main message here is that there is one way to save a fortune on this issue and that is to properly fund this opportunity in the public service.
Last year, The news revealed that a leasing company Seraph Aviation Group had offered the Department of Defense two second-hand long-haul heavy aircraft.
This offer was rejected by the ministry.
Irish Army Ranger Wing operators and diplomats who traveled to Kabul last year to rescue Irish civilians also had to hitch a ride to and from Afghanistan aboard French and Finnish planes.
There was also a case of delay in the departure of Irish troops from UNIFIL in Lebanon due to concerns over Covid-19.
The UN covers an “overseas allowance” 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 the Defense Forces social media channels, when the Air Corps used aircraft such as the government jet to transport small numbers of troops from missions.
In most cases, however, the troops traveled on commercially operated flights or on chartered aircraft.
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The following is a spreadsheet summary of the expenses:
An overview of the cost of commercially chartered flights and airline 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 border with Syria
- UNIFIL in Lebanon
- UNTSO in the Middle East
- MONUSCO operation in Congo
- KFOR a UN/NATO Joint Operation in Kosovo
- MINRUSO special forces detachment in Mali/Western Sahara and the UN headquarters in New York.
The European Union’s missions are in Mali to train local troops to face Islamic terror groups and the EU BiH operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is monitoring the situation in the former Yugoslavia.
A spokesman for the Representative Association of Non-Commissioned Officers said the lack of funding for the Air Corps is endangering the Irish people.
“Public defense spending, the lowest in the EU by any identifiable measure, is dangerously inadequate.
“We must never apologize for the maintenance and financing of the state insurance policy. Enhanced capacity ensures the protection, health, safety and well-being of our workforce, inspires pride in service and improves retention.
“Critical resources possessed by normal armed forces such as airlift are not only logistical and strategic assets, but they also enhance the safety and well-being of our personnel by ensuring their safe and timely deployment and recovery from overseas missions. .
“This is before we even look at the value for money aspect – airlift can be a national asset, not just a military one. The arguments for investing in this most basic national security requirement are groundless,” the spokesperson said.