A BRITISH company, which was responsible for a delay in the deployment of an advance party of Irish peacekeeping troops to Lebanon, has won the contract for flying out the bulk of the troops later this month.
Leading UK-based firm Air Partner will organise two flights taking out the peacekeepers from Dublin to Beirut.
A blunder over air transport licences resulted in the 90-strong advance party being delayed for a week earlier this month. This meant that the two main flights were also pushed back. The delay was announced after it was discovered that the company did not have the required licence to carry weapons and ammunition.
The troops were transferred to a smaller plane and an Air Corps CASA maritime patrol craft had to be taken off operational duties to bring out the weapons.
Air Partner was also involved in controversy in September 2008 when a similar error over a licence forced the grounding of two helicopters, which had been leased to carry Irish troops around Chad.
It also emerged last night that Air Partner secured two other valuable contracts from the Department of Defence last year. The company was used to fly 180 members of the Defence Forces from Pristina in Kosovo back to Dublin in April last year.
And in October, Air Partner organised a flight for a military group from Dublin to Sweden to take part in a six-week training programme as part of the EU battlegroup exercises. Both flights were incident-free.
Officials said last night that Air Partner was a major company and that the vast majority of its work was non-controversial.
They said the licence incident earlier this month was the first time that the Department of Defence had encountered any difficulties with the company during a "rotation" of troops.
After the Lebanon blunder, Defence Minister Alan Shatter told the Irish Independent it was unsatisfactory and unacceptable that Air Partner had failed to take sufficient steps to advance the appropriate licence in sufficient time.
He was concerned a similar difficulty could arise in the future and that there was apparently no mechanism in place to avoid a recurrence.
The department explained that "the most economically advantageous" tender was provided by Air Partner.
It added that under EU requirements it was obliged to award the contract to that company and had no discretion in its decision.