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Do we really need a jet to ferry our Government around? I'm afraid so

BACK when Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach, some government officials blessed themselves, had an Air Corps gin and tonic and tried to think about Ireland as they boarded the government jet.

Many of them were less than convinced about the safety of this jet. And Mr Ahern was also sceptical about the big bird's reliability, thanks to two separate incidents.

It was bad enough that in November 2001 Mr Ahern had to cancel a meeting in New York with then-UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, due to "technical difficulties" which grounded the jet in Washington.

Worse again was a real-life stand-off in January 2003 at an airport in Mexico.

There were soldiers, dignitaries, brass bands and a rolled-out red carpet, all assembled to say a formal farewell to visiting Taoiseach Mr Ahern, his then-partner, Celia Larkin, and his officials. It transpired that the government jet was going nowhere due to a faulty fuel pipe.

The Taoiseach and Ms Larkin got a KLM flight home and his officials waited on until repairs were completed.

Through the years, the opposition parties loved pillorying the government jet. Now the Government faces some hard-nosed decisions about the Gulfstream IV grounded in the USA after a routine maintenance trip uncovered serious problems with the undercarriage.

It's the kind of dilemma ordinary folk face over an ailing car. But this one involves millions, not hundreds or thousands.

Simon Coveney, wearing his Defence Minister's hat, will bring an options report to Government soon.

And there is the added delight of bringing the issue before a recession-weary public as an election looms over the horizon within 18 months, at the latest.

Will Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, no stranger to the government jet as Foreign Affairs Minister, pull his punches this time?

At the heart of all this is the recurring question: Do we need a government jet, and is it worth it?

As a country turning over €50bn per year which tries to sell into world markets, the answer is "Yes".

Irish Independent