Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Helicopter Service.

Seán Barrett

Question:

2 Mr. Barrett asked the Minister for Defence if he has received a report which indicates that the search and rescue helicopter services operated from Shannon by Irish Helicopters could be provided by the Air Corps at a saving of £2 million a year; if he proposes to review the private contract awarded in 1991 with a view to having the service provided by the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

14 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if a report has been drawn up by an Air Corps board suggesting that the search and rescue helicopter service based at Shannon could be operated by the Air Corps at a saving of £2 million per year on the present contract cost; if so, if he will publish the report; if he intends to bring the report to the attention of the Department of the Marine; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 14 together. A contract for the provision of a medium-range helicopter search and rescue service based at Shannon was placed by the Department of the Marine in June 1991 following a decision by the Government. This contract expires at the end of 1996 and is, I understand, operating in a satisfactory manner.

The Government also decided in 1991 that the operation of a medium-range helicopter service by the Air Corps from 1997 should be fully examined and costed. An interim report in this matter was received recently and is at present being examined by this Department. Consultation will, of course, take place with the Department of the Marine on the report. It is not the practice to publish reports of this nature.

This must be one of the greatest scandals of all times, particularly of a time when we are talking about cutbacks and not being able to recruit people into the Air Corps or the Defence Forces. While commending the provision of that important service the reality is that a report has been presented to Government showing clearly that, had the Air Corps been allowed to purchase two medium-range helicopters over a period of 20 years, they could have operated that service for a figure of £3 million annually, whereas the contract given to the firm in question costs £5 million, an increase of £2 million annually over a five-year period as a result of mismanagement of this service. Bearing in mind particularly that the Government was reviewing the overall position and seeking a report, would the Minister of State say why a five-year contract period was agreed, which was an exceptionally long one?

If everything Deputy Barrett said was true it would be a scandal. However, to rely on specifically leaked information to the newspapers is not a very good way of taking decisions or assessing what was the actual position. I do not accept any of the figures the Deputy has quoted, which were quoted in a newspaper article. I might add that the Government decision was that the contract would run until the end of 1996 and, in the meantime, a review and full report would be compiled. That report has now been compiled and is being studied carefully in the Department. The decisions will be based on the facts rather than on specific leaked information.

Deputy Barrett rose.

A brief question, Deputy. I have three more questions to dispose of.

If the Minister of State is contradicting the newspaper reports what are the accurate figures? Surely, the newspapers did not pull these figures out of the sky. They must be based on some facts and the public are entitled to know how public money is being spent. I would like to ask the Minister of State a direct question. Does the report show that the Air Corps over a period of 20 years, could run this service more cheaply and what is the reason a five year contract was awarded?

It was decided that a contract should be placed. As the Deputy will recall, this matter was the source of great controversy at the time and a decision had to be taken. Because some people felt that the Air Corps rather than a private service should be used the Government decided to carry out a study and evaluate the cost that would be involved. That study is ongoing. I am sure that the report to which the Deputy is referring appeared in the Irish Independent among other newspapers but the statements made in that report are not correct.

What are the figures?

It is not the practice to reveal figures but I can assure the Deputy that the figures quoted are not correct. In addition, the figures quoted in respect of the cost of the service are not correct either.