The Defence Forces found out by accident that the Taoiseach’s department wanted to charter an aircraft to fly Micheal Martin to Paris because officials did not trust the government Learjet would be fit to fly.
Internal records detail how officials in the Taoiseach’s office insisted on hiring a €2,000-per-hour aircraft because of the “absolute necessity” of the Taoiseach’s attendance at meetings in Paris and London in early March.
They said the government’s ageing €8 million Learjet could be kept available on standby if it were functional at the time Mr Martin wanted to travel.
In an email to the Department of Defence, Assistant Secretary to the Government Dermot Woods wrote: “We cannot be in doubt as to his attendance and any of the commercial aviation options too significantly reduce the essential flexibility he will need to have in the limited time availability.
“Therefore, will you arrange please, as the primary option for the three-leg travel, to secure option 5 (Luxaviation Citation CJ3 for 6 passengers) for this occasion? If the Learjet were functional it could act as a back-up if needed.”
Records from the Department of Defence also describe how news of leasing an aircraft was met with “some surprise” in the Air Corps who had readied the Learjet and a crew for the mission.
They only found out about the plan after one of the companies asked to provide a quote for a charter plane rang them directly to inquire about using Baldonnel Airport.
An email to the department from a senior officer said: “You might confirm has your Department taken a decision to contract a civil aircraft for a [ministerial air transport] operation from Casement Aerodrome, without informing this Headquarters or Defence Forces Headquarter, or is this request from the operator a contingency?”
The Air Corps also warned that the charter company were mistaken in thinking flying a private plane into a military airport would be straightforward.
They said they had concerns about a civilian aircraft coming through Baldonnel, especially around the “security precautions” for such a flight.
The Air Corps also warned there would be other difficulties around the supply of fuel and handling without a formal contract in place.
An email from Colonel Dave Corcoran said: “At this point, as requested by you last week, I can confirm that our advice is 1 Operations Wing is ready and able to conduct the MATS operation. Both Learjet and CASA aircraft are serviceable and available for that purpose.
“Please urgently confirm the Department of Defence intentions in relation to this civil flight as soon as possible and whether we should continue to plan the operation ourselves or not?”
In response, officials in the department said they wanted to be able to present several options to the Taoiseach for his journey.
One email said: “Given that the Taoiseach has either been let down on a couple of occasions by the Service recently or it has not met his requirements in relation to length of journey … the consultants Altea were asked to obtain quotes from four companies identified through their research.”
The message added: “What we’re all trying to ensure here is that the Taoiseach does not get let down again and every option has to be explored.”