Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

Richard Bruton

Question:

7 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Defence when the Air Corps expect delivery of the two new CASA maritime patrol aircraft; and if there has been any delay in delivering these aircraft.

In accordance with an EC-approved programme, a contract was placed in April 1991 for the purchase of two new CASA CN 235 maritime patrol aircraft, and one used CASA CN 235 aircraft which was delivered in June 1991.

The new aircraft will be used for the purpose of fisheries surveillance operations and, as scheduled, are due for delivery in 1994.

Is it a condition of the original contract that the aircraft will be delivered three years after placing the order? Have there been any delays?

There has been no delay to date. It is expected that the aircraft will be delivered by October 1994.

In view of the ravaging of our seabed by foreign trawlers, is it intended to increase further the number of patrolling aircraft that assists the Naval Service?

That is kept under constant review. At present we have no plans to increase the number of aircraft beyond the number I have outlined here. The Deputy will be aware that we are in contact with the EC in this regard.

Given the huge area that has to be patrolled by the Air Corps, in these circumstances will he indicate the coverage that can be provided by the Air Corps' current capacity? When an Air Corps aircraft spots someone acting illegally in EC waters, do we have the capacity to respond to such sightings?

The surveillance aircraft contact the Navy when they want particular action taken. The surveillance operation covers all our areas of responsibility. The aircraft which was delivered in June 1991 has completed 258 maritime missions, which involved 1,252 hours surveillance flying. It has recorded sightings of 3,584 fishing vessels. That gives an idea of the work of one aircraft; but with the extra capacity, we will be able to cover much more.

I am trying to find out the effectiveness of the surveillance and follow-through action. We were told that there were 3,584 sightings. Does this number comprise sightings of all types of vessels, including Irish vessels? What is the response to those sightings?

I was speaking specifically of fishing vessels. There were 3,584 sightings of fishing vessels, but this includes sightings of all vessels in the area.

The lines of communications are good. There might have been some difficulties and a breakdown in communications during the period when I was a backbencher, as I elicited at a Public Accounts Committee meeting. I understand that the response time to the information supplied by the surveillance patrols is very quick.

Does the Minister agree that there is not much point in the patrolling aircraft reporting sightings unless the Naval Service can provide backup support to carry out arrests of those who are fishing illegally? Does he agree that the paltry fleet of seven Naval Service vessels has to be rectified very quickly in view of the fact that Ireland owns 16 per cent of the EC waters?

I think the Deputy agrees with me that the Naval Service is most efficient and effective. Obviously, like any other branch of the armed forces, if it had more resources it could do more. It is the Government's intention, subject to budgetary constraints, that whatever extra resources can be made available to the Navy will be made available. It is no secret that the State benefits from fines for illegal fishing. We would all like to see the fishery protection service expanded.