Government jet clash takes wing among TDs

The government, led by Garret FitzGerald, was seriously concerned about the high cost of running the government jet within months of taking office in 1983.

Government jet clash takes wing among TDs

A Cabinet memo from May 1983 shows ministers believed any decision on retaining the aircraft should consider “the overall effect on public morale” given the continuous pressure on the government to significantly reduce expenditure on ministerial transport.

It noted that the jet was generally regarded as “a very expensive and luxurious facility” — a view which was not shared by then transport minister Jim Mitchell.

He argued it was accepted as a normal requisite for the conduct of international business by a state.

The Department of Finance recommended that any decision should be deferred until the Department of Transport explored the possibility of replacing the jet with an air charter service.

The high cost of the jet and its low level of use by ministers was a cause of great concern to Alan Dukes, then the finance minister. He claimed there was no compelling reason why ministers should not avail of scheduled commercial flights where practicable given the country’s financial circumstances.

Mr Dukes believed substantial savings could be achieved through the use of an air charter service.

However, Mr Mitchell’s department argued the use of the jet provided other advantages in terms of security, flexibility and pilot experience. The additional cost of running the jet instead of taking scheduled airline flights in 1982 was £343,000.

A study showed using the jet became more economical than scheduled flights when it had five or more passengers. It had been bought in 1980 at a cost of £2.5m.

FitzGerald favoured the retention of the jet, though he acknowledged that its disposal could be justified on cost grounds.

The Fine Gael leader believed the nature of modern diplomacy and international commitments and the requirements of flexibility and national security meant it should be retained.

FitzGerald said that the retention of the jet was in the national interest.

Separately, defence minister Patrick Cooney recommended in July 1983 that ministers should only be allowed to use air corps helicopters in exceptional circumstances. The hourly cost of operating the Alouette helicopters at the time was £485.

Cooney noted that the number of requests from ministers to use the helicopters in recent years had risen to about 30 per annum. He said such demand had resulted in air corps helicopters being diverted from their normal duties for lengthy periods.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said many countries had said it was not acceptable for visiting dignitaries to travel in single-engined aircraft because of the risk factor.

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