03 March 2009

The Aer Corps - Fianna Fáil's Air Taxi Service

Yesterday we learned that a large side door had fallen off a new Aer Corps helicopter (above) in mid-flight over Co. Kerry. (see yesterday's entry below)
On its own this would be a rather minor news item, of real interest only to military experts and aircraft enthusiasts. But there is a lot more to this incident than the eye meets at first glance.

Although the official investigation by Aer Corps experts is still under way and I would not want to jump to conclusions from a distance, an incident like this can have in principal three possible reasons:
  1. It could be a construction fault;
  2. It could be caused by wear and tear or metal fatigue;
  3. It could be the result of shoddy maintenance.
The first option could be blamed on the helicopter's Italian manufacturer, Augusta-Westland. It would be the least embarrassing for Ireland, and faults can happen anywhere, even though they should not.
Option two is the least likely. The AW 139 is a new helicopter and regarded as reliable and solid .
The third possibility looks like the most plausible to me. During my own long service in the Navy I had plenty of experience with helicopters, including as a crew member of one for some time. It is very easy to overlook a small maintenance detail, especially during the routine conditions any military organisation developes in peace time.

But the real scandal is not the falling off of a helicopter door, as inconvenient and embarrassing it might be for the Aer Corps. No, the outrage is the use of this helicopter - and others operated by the Irish Aer Corps - for unnecessary ministerial journeys.

It has emerged that the AW 139, a modern medium-sized aircraft that can transport 15 people at one time, was used yesterday as the private air taxi for Martin Cullen (right), Ireland's Minister for the Arts, Sport & Tourism. It collected the Fianna Fáil TD in the morning in Waterford, his home city and constituency, and flew him and one assistant to Killarney, Co. Kerry. There the minister gave a short speech to the about 250 members of the Irish Hotels' Federation, which were holding their annual conference in the Malton Hotel.

There was nothing urgent in the minister's address, and nothing new either. What he said to the hoteliers was just what they expected to hear: Tourist numbers are down significantly (they fell by 3% last year, and the predictions for 2009 are much worse), prices for hotel accomodation - and everything else in Ireland - are way too high, and we all will have to suffer, pull together and do our bit to get out of recession.

What was so important in this speech, and in the minister's visit to the conference in Killarney, that it justified the use of an AW 139 helicopter, at a cost - for Ireland's taxpayers - of € 8130?
Like every Irish minister Martin Cullen has a large Mercedes government car, with a Garda as permanent chauffeur. As his address to the hoteliers began at 2.15 pm, there was plenty of time to drive from Waterford to Killarney. Cullen had no appointments in Waterford on Monday, so if he had left in the morning, he would have arrived in Killarney well in time for lunch. This would have cost a fraction of the helicopter ride.
And while the minister was in the air, his chauffeur drove the empty black Mercedes to Dublin, with orders to meet his boss in the afternoon after the helicopter had brought him to the capital.

After giving his speech, Martin Cullen - apparently in a hurry - left the Malton Hotel in Killarney and boarded the AW 139 waiting for him outside. (During the minister's address the helicopter was spotted by local people flying circles over the nearby National Park. Was that waste of fuel necessary as well?) Once again there were only two passengers - Cullen and his assistant - in the 15-seater aircraft.
Shortly after take-off the left side door suddenly detached itself and crashed into the National Park from a height of 150 metres. (It has meanwhile been located and removed by Aer Corps personnel.) As reported yesterday already, the helicopter then made an emergency landing at the Killarney Golf & Fishing Club.

Martin Cullen emerged "visibly shaken", but determined to be flown to Dublin. He was brought by car to Co. Kerry's regional airport at nearby Farranfore, where another Aer Corps AW 139 picked him up later and flew him and his assistant to the capital.
This second helicopter had been over Co. Cork, as part of a combined exercise involving the Aer Corps and the Naval Service. It was ordered to abandon its operation and became the second air taxi for Martin Cullen in one day, which raised the costs for the minister's travel from Waterford to Dublin via Killarney to a staggering € 16,260!!!

The fact that a third AW 139 was used to fly the Aer Corps' investigation team from Baldonnel to Killarney added a further € 8130 to the expenses, though the minister can of course not be held responsible for that, or the incident itself.
However, his inflated ego and sense of self-importance, which made him travel in an Aer Corps helicopter rather than in his ministerial car, has cost the Irish taxpayers dearly. Three of the Aer Corps' six AW 139 had to be used, which is one third of Ireland's entire military helicopter fleet. The cost of the whole affair, including the aftermath, investigation and recovery of the fallen-off door, will be in the area of € 35,000, not counting the costs for repairing the damaged AW 139. How such a sum could ever be justified for a minor domestic appearance and short speech by one of the lesser cabinet ministers is beyond my capacity of understanding.

But it is not even the worst misuse of Aer Corps aircraft by an Irish government minister. A few years ago (the then Tánaiste) Mary Harney (left) - now the widely hated Minister for Health - used the main government jet to fly from Dublin to Sligo, for the sole purpose of being present at the opening of a personal friend's new off-licence (shop for alcoholic drinks).
Such was the political culture in our 'Celtic Tiger' banana republic...

This afternoon a caller to the Live Line programme (with Joe Duffy) on RTÉ Radio 1 pointed out that Martin Cullen could have easily taken a regular Ryan Air flight from Kerry to Dublin.
But Ireland's most popular tourist airline seemed to be not good enough for the cabinet minister with responsibility for the country's Tourism.

Slice by slice and day by day the true dimensions of our scandalous banana republic become ever more visible, even though - to quote a song popular in the 1930s - "No, we grow no bananas". In a state of unprecedented arrogance and ignorance our incompetent government ministers - and in particular those belonging to Fianna Fáil - behave almost like French aristocrats before 1789 or medieval princes with feudal powers. They have forgotten that they were elected by the Irish people, in order to represent them. Instead they live in a world of their own, on a little golden planet that only exists in their imagination. Unfortunately they make the rest of us, all those who live in the real world, pay for their extravagant lifestyle of luxury and pretence.

In two weeks' time - on St. Patrick's Day - it will even be worse, as almost every Irish minister will use the occasion to fly off - always first class - to faraway places at taxpayers' expense. The Taoiseach will fly to Washington, to present a bowl of shamrock to President Barack Obama, if he likes it or not.
This 'tradition', only invented in the late 20th century, reminds me of medieval vassals, who had once a year to pay tribute to their overlord and humour him with presents.
We must be the only nation in the world where the whole government leaves the country on the National Day!

There is nothing wrong with presenting foreign leaders with a special gift of Irish shamrock on the 17th of March. But such friendly gestures fall into the portfolio of ambassadors. And we have plenty of them abroad. What is the point in having them, if they are not even entrusted with the handing over of a bunch of shamrock...?

I am begining to wonder if yesterday's falling-off of the helicopter's door was a kind of omen, a special sign for the situation we are in. It is somehow telling that by now even Irish aircraft are losing parts in mid-air, after the wheels fell off our banks first, and then off our entire economy.

The fighters of 1916, whose blood was the final price for our eventual independence, must be rotating in their graves when they see Fianna Fáil turning our Aer Corps into the party's private air transport service. On Liveline today one of the many angry callers suggested that we need a real revolution in Ireland, and that some heads need to roll...
It would not surprise me if views like his are gaining more momentum, thanks to self-serving arrogant wasters like Martin Cullen. His ilk has sparked revolutions before...

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

The Wild Goose said...

There is nothing wrong with presenting foreign leaders with a special gift of Irish shamrock on the 17th of March. But such friendly gestures fall into the portfolio of ambassadors. And we have plenty of them abroad. What is the point in having them, if they are not even entrusted with the handing over of a bunch of shamrock...?

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