Thursday 27 July 2017

Taoiseach defends Coveney who 'questioned Air Corps pilot's refusal to fly due to fog forecast'

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney

John Downing and Kevin Doyle

THE Taoiseach has defended Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney in a row over an Air Corps pilot’s refusal to fly him from Dublin to Cork due to forecast fog.

Correspondence between the Defence Department and the Air Corps shows that the military air service were “very unhappy” by the then-Defence Minister’s challenge to the pilot’s safety decision in June 2015.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, raised concerns about the incident in which Mr Coveney phoned the pilot concerned after he said he could not fly the Minister to “a very important meeting in Cork.”

Mr Martin, a Cork South Central rival of Mr Coveney, said he hoped the then-Defence Minister, responsible for the Air Corps, “did not put pressure on the pilot.”  He also asked whether Mr Coveney had since apologised to the pilot concerned.

“I think safety should never be compromised by somebody’s diary agenda,” Mr Martin said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that, as a former Transport Minister himself, he was insistent that aviation safety always came first. 

“When it comes to a decision, safety always comes first. And it’s always the pilot’s decision, not the passengers’, as to whether or not to fly,” Mr Varadkar said.

But Mr Varadkar said that Mr Coveney had merely inquired from the pilot about the issue. He said the Minister had “put no pressure on the pilot.”

Earlier Mr Coveney said he has the utmost respect for members of the Defence Forces,

On his way into Cabinet today the former minister for defence refused to get into the details of the 2015 incident – but said his record in the Department of Defence spoke for itself.

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