Priority Questions. - Air Accident Investigation.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

66 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the serious concerns expressed by relatives of those who died in the 1999 Dauphin crash at Tramore regarding deleted sections of the report of a military court of inquiry into the accident; the reason these deletions were made; if he will now consider making the deleted matter available to the relatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18893/03]

Reports of courts of inquiry are confidential and are not generally intended for publication. However, following the tragic events at Tramore in 1999, I undertook to provide the families of the crew with a copy of the findings of the court of inquiry. Accordingly, once the court of inquiry had completed its work, I sought legal advice from the Attorney General's office on the release of the report. While I am entitled to waive confidentiality and to release documents in whole or in part, such release is subject to certain conditions, in particular, the requirements of fair procedures regarding third parties, for instance non-military personnel who would not be subject to a court of inquiry.

On foot of the advice received from the Office of the Attorney General, a small number of sections were deleted before the findings of the court of inquiry were released to the families.

This very day marks the fourth anniversary of the 1999 crash in Tramore, which was probably the worst disaster in the entire history of the Air Corps. Our thoughts are with the brave men who lost their lives and their families. Does the Minister agree with some of the relatives of those who died who do not believe they have received full and adequate replies to many of the questions raised by this disaster? Why was it considered necessary to delete some sections of the report of the military court of inquiry, given that it was an internal document not intended for publication and was only given to a number of relatives? Does the Minister agree that deleting sections of the report will only add to the suspicions of relatives that information is being withheld?

Under the Defence Forces regulations, the findings and recommendations of all courts of inquiry are confidential. I have the power to waive that confidentiality but I can only do so under fair procedures – that means consulting the Attorney General on which sections must be omitted for legal reasons.

I share the Deputy's concerns for and sympathies with the families who lost loved ones in this tragic clash, but there should be no suspicion that anything was withheld other than that which was absolutely legally necessary. Those sections dealt with third parties who were not subject to the court of inquiry. If the Deputy meets the families, he should convey that as sincerely as he can.

We are not obliged to disclose the contents of a report of a court of inquiry. I waived that confidentiality clause and then consulted the Attorney General on the sections to be withheld. They were withheld on a strictly legal basis because they related to third parties who were not subject to the court of inquiry and only on that basis.

On the broader issue of the disaster, have all the recommendations of the inquiry held by the air accident investigation unit into the crash been implemented? Are any recommendations still to be implemented? Is the Minister aware that the general secretary of PDFORRA said today that many personnel working in the search and rescue area have lost confidence in the flight safety environment in which they are required to work? This is a serious issue and must be addressed by the relevant authorities. Will the Minister deal with this?

I understand that earlier today PDFORRA raised some concerns regarding flight safety in the Air Corps and made some allegations of a general nature. Before I came into the House I was assured by the military authorities that there is no foundation whatsoever to these allegations.

To answer the Deputy's earlier question, the accident investigation unit of the Department of Transport made a number of recommendations following the tragic Tramore crash and all of these recommendations have been put in place. I then established a safety audit of all the procedures in Baldonnel. Arising from that audit, the professional nature of the work and the highly motivated people in the Air Corps, a number of strongly complimentary remarks were made about the people in Baldonnel. I reject any suggestion that those in Baldonnel have adhered to anything other than the strictest safety procedures down through the years. Their record proves that. I support anything the Air Corps can do to improve on those high standards and to improve safety generally, bearing in mind that there is nothing as important as the safety of those who fly the aircraft.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

That concludes Priority Questions. We now move on to ordinary questions.