herald

Thursday 19 October 2017

it's time to ground jalopy jets for good

Dublin, we have a problem. One of Ireland's two government jets has been left grounded in Georgia after a maintenance inspection revealed some dangerous problems with its undercarriage.

Defence Minister Simon Coveney now has a chance to make a really popular decision - sell off this outdated white elephant and do something useful with the €40 million that it would cost to replace it.

Anyone who thinks that the Gulfstream IV jet is a powerful symbol of Ireland's prestige has obviously never flown in it.

On Obama's Air Force One there is a private chef, executive suite and 50-inch plasma screen television. On Enda Kenny's Eire Force One you might get a full Irish breakfast and a free newspaper.

In fact, it has nothing that cannot be found in the business class section of a transatlantic flight. The last time I was a passenger, it's 14 seats were only slightly more comfortable than those on the Dublin-Cork train.

So if Irish jets are too basic to impress any foreign guests, why do we have them at all? Since Charlie Haughey became the first Taoiseach to fly in one 23 years ago, the world of commercial air travel has been transformed beyond all recognition.

It is now possible to reach almost anywhere on the planet in less than 24 hours, often at prices that our parents' generation could only have dreamed of.

Officially, the government claims that it needs an exclusive aircraft because ministers sometimes have to be whisked around the world at a moment's notice.

egos

In reality, most of their overseas meetings take place in nearby London or Brussels and are organised well in advance.

As a result, there is a suspicion that some of them use the Gulfstream either as a personal taxi service or just to puff up their already inflated egos.

Even if the 'emergency excuse' held good, it hardly explains why the Irish taxpayer also forks out for a Learjet 45 that costs €4,200 an hour to fly. As Oscar Wilde might have said, to own one of these things is questionable - to have two just seems like reckless extravagance.

Back in 2010 then finance minister Brian Lenihan admitted all this by announcing his plan to ditch the Gulfstream. When Enda Kenny came to power a year later, he made a big show out of scrapping ministerial Mercs and ordering his new cabinet to take a mini-bus to Aras an Uachtarain.

The ultimate symbol of government waste and deluded self-importance, however, is still very much alive - even if it is currently gathering dust in a US hangar almost 4,000 miles away.

Eire Force One has had its day. Simon Coveney can do us all a massive favour by clipping its wings for good.

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