Flight blunder delays peacekeepers
Department dismayed after discovery airline was not licensed to carry weapons
AN advance party of Irish peacekeepers had to postpone their deployment to Lebanon for a week after another blunder over air transport licences.
The 90-strong military group was ready to go two weeks ago when it was discovered that a charter company in charge of flying out its weapons and ammunition did not have the required licence to carry them.
The episode has caused serious embarrassment to the Department of Defence after a similar error over a licence forced the grounding of two helicopters that had been leased to carry Irish troops around Chad in September 2008.
An internal review of the Chad incident blamed the error on miscommunication within the military chain of command and was the result of an "excess of zeal" by logistics officers.
This time, department officials decided to assume responsibility for leasing aircraft for the Lebanon trip and put the contract out to tender.
Ironically, the tendering competition was won by a UK-based company, Air Partner, which was also involved in the Chad incident.
The department admitted last night that shortly before the scheduled departure of the troops and the weapons, it emerged that Air Partner had failed to obtain the required licence to carry munitions from the UK authorities.
Defence Minister Alan Shatter told the Irish Independent it was unacceptable that Air Partner had failed to take the necessary steps to advance the appropriate licence in sufficient time.
He said this dissatisfaction had been made known to Air Partner and he also intended at EU level to raise the issue of a "legal straitjacket" arising from European laws, which could result in a requirement to enter into contracts that would be undesirable in the private sector.
The department explained that "the most economically advantageous" tender was provided by Air Partner and, under EU requirements, it was required to award the contract to that company and had no discretion in its decision.
Despite the setback, the advance party are determined that the headquarters in Tibnin will be operational before the rest of the 440-strong battalion deploy on June 23 and 27.
A convoy of 36 armoured vehicles travelled from Kildare to Ringaskiddy last week and are being shipped to Lebanon.