Discord between Department of Defence and the Defence Forces over repatriation of two officers from peacekeeping mission in Africa

The Department of Defence were worried the government jet might develop technical problems in Africa if sent on a mission to extract two Irish army officers from a peacekeeping mission.

A major rift between the department and Defence Forces developed over plans to bring the two soldiers home with senior officials later disputing the “emergency” nature of the evacuation put forward by the military.

The Department of Defence also said the military had become fixated on using the government’s Learjet for the mission despite concerns about its reliability on a journey with up to eight separate legs.

Finalising a realistic flight plan for the jet had also “proved elusive” with stop-offs in several countries en route complicated by Covid-19 restrictions.

The two officers ended up flying back to Ireland from their UN mission in the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on board commercial flights after handing over their weapons to “friendly forces”.

Internal records detail significant differences of opinion between the department and the Defence Forces over the operation with a senior official saying it “proved almost impossible” to get the military to look at other options beside the Learjet.

A ministerial brief prepared by the department’s then secretary general Maurice Quinn said it had not been an “emergency evacuation” given the two officers had been able to fly home on a commercial flight.

The brief said: “The Learjet was the only option put forward by the Defence Forces for the extraction. This clearly delayed the extraction. It proved almost impossible to get engagement with [them] … on the other options that were available.”