Tuesday, 6 March 2007
Ceisteanna — Questions
Ministerial Air Transport Service.
Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach the procedures in place in his Department in respect of the use of the Government jets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43900/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
The procedures I outlined to the House previously in respect of the use of the ministerial air transport service, most recently on 26 January 2005, have not changed. The position is that my approval is required prior to the service being used. Procedurally, requests for the use of the service are made to my office by Ministers' private secretaries and dealt with, in the first instance, by the staff of that office. Requests are examined by my staff with regard to the need for and purpose of travel, the destination and other logistical details. Any necessary clarification or further information is sought at this point. All screened requests are then submitted to me for my consideration and approval, if deemed appropriate. Once approved, all operational matters are settled directly between the office of the Minister in question and the Department of Defence or the Air Corps.
I thank the Taoiseach for outlining the procedures involved. Where are the Government jets normally housed? Are they in a hangar at Baldonnel or Dublin Airport? Will the Taoiseach tell the House the number of occasions in 2006 on which the jets travelled from Baldonnel to Dublin Airport? These are short hop trips which add to their wear and tear. There is a perception that the Taoiseach and the line-up of exalted Ministers do not need to travel on the M50 and put up with the traffic jams, unlike the rest of us.
Why is it not normal procedure for Ministers, exalted and absent, to travel to Baldonnel to make use of the facilities of the ministerial air transport service from there, as distinct from having the jets fly from Baldonnel to Dublin Airport in order that Ministers can be whisked away to exotic places to do business for Ireland? That is the perception. I am not saying the Taoiseach would not love to be stuck in traffic in the middle of the M50.
The Minister, Deputy O'Dea, has other ways of going. It might be no harm if some of the people concerned had to contend with the reality of everyday travel on the ground, so to speak.
Where are the jets housed? How many times do they have to travel from Baldonnel to Dublin Airport for the purpose of picking up Ministers flying away to change the world? Will the Taoiseach make it part of the procedures that Ministers should be encouraged or instructed by him to be driven to Baldonnel before flying away to do business for Ireland?
The MATS aircraft are housed at Baldonnel. I suggest the Deputy direct a question to the Minister for Defence. Practically all flights arrive at or depart from Baldonnel. A high proportion take off from Baldonnel and a smaller number from Dublin Airport. Those that take off from Dublin Airport do so for a variety of logistical, operational or safety reasons, including the needs of the travelling party but it is rare occurrence. My colleagues use Baldonnel in practically every case. They usually leave so early in the morning when travelling to Brussels that they do not encounter problems with traffic.
The Taoiseach has never been on the M50 at 6 a.m. Regarding the use of the Government jet and the example of the British Government, does the Taoiseach have a protocol in place for engaging in carbon offsetting? Will he provide statistics regarding his use of the Government jet? How often is it flown from Baldonnel and Dublin Airport? I understand one of the operational reasons for flying from Dublin Airport is that the runway at Baldonnel is not long enough to take long-haul aircraft. I invite the Taoiseach to clarify whether this is a reason. Is the Government considering implementing a protocol regarding the use of the Government jet for journeys within the State and other more appropriate forms of transport where they are available?
Most long-haul flights such as those to the United States usually leave from Dublin Airport, while shorter journeys such as those to Britain commence from Baldonnel. I fly from both Baldonnel and Dublin Airport. If I am returning late at night, I prefer to land at Dublin Airport, as it is located five minutes from my home but otherwise I do not really care. Most flights usually leave from Baldonnel. There are not as many flights within the State. We used to use the helicopter service a lot in earlier years but I do not do so, for personal reasons. I do not use the landing pad because I do not like it. I have never used the landing pad in Government Buildings, and I do not use the——
Others were, so I declined my use of helicopters and have not resumed it, except on rare occasions.
With regard to the British example, it is not a fair comparison. When the British go to the European Council on Thursday, they will bring two full jets with 500 staff. We will bring one jet with a dozen staff. With regard to our energy efficiency plans, we are not doing anything other than being helpful to the environment in so far as aviation is concerned.
——including when it comes to the environment. Is it the case, as is reported, that the jet takes off from Baldonnel and lands again at Dublin Airport to collect the Taoiseach because that is more convenient? Has the Taoiseach concerns about his carbon footprint? I noticed he was in Galway recently to talk about climate change. Is it the most efficient use of Government transport that, rather than shoot over the West Link bridge and out to Baldonnel, like the rest of us, the jet leaves Baldonnel and calls at Dublin Airport to collect the Taoiseach, and has him back for canvassing in no time at all? Would it not be better to go to Baldonnel in the first instance?
I do come into Dublin Airport — there is no doubt about that. I am not a great user of the Government jet. As the Deputy knows, some of my colleagues have far more reason to do so. Most of my use is in regard to the European Council meetings.
The wear and tear issue came up a number of years ago. The Air Corps advised me that the wear and tear on the aircraft as a consequence of operating in an out of Dublin is impossible to quantify — it is just wear and tear, and does not make a lot of difference.
I rather arrive back into Dublin Airport for a number of reasons, but sometimes I do not do this. I flew out of Baldonnel last week when I travelled to the UK and I sometimes fly back into Baldonnel. Frankly, I am more interested in where I land at my destination. When I go to the UK, I try to land at the military airport because it is far nearer to London and far more convenient. There is a not a great difference. If it is late at night, I rather come into Dublin Airport.
If I am going to Northern Ireland, as I have over the years, I would nearly drive there in the time it takes to get to and from Baldonnel. I often do drive to Northern Ireland, but I then have to go through the rigmarole of changing, which we all have to do, which creates its own bureaucracy.
The Taoiseach is in charge of the Government jet and he gave permission for it to be used by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, for a trip to County Kerry on official business. Does the Taoiseach agree it would be far cheaper for the Minister, and the Government in general, to use Aer Arann or take other direct flights rather than using the Government jet?