Coveney challenged pilot who refused to fly due to fog forecast

Air Corps is ‘very unhappy’ about Minister’s behaviour during the 2015 incident

 Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney questioned the judgment of an experienced Air Corps pilot who refused to fly him to Cork because of predicted fog. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney questioned the judgment of an experienced Air Corps pilot who refused to fly him to Cork because of predicted fog. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney questioned the judgment of an experienced Air Corps pilot who refused to fly him to Cork because of predicted fog.

In an email between Department of Defence officials, the Air Corps is described as being “very unhappy” about the incident on June 17th, 2015, when Mr Coveney was minister for defence. The incident began when Mr Coveney’s private secretary, Vincent Lowe, was told the minister’s early-morning flight to Cork had been cancelled. The decision prompted tart exchanges between the minister and the pilot, whom Mr Coveney contacted directly, and later between the pilot and Mr Lowe.

Details are captured in an email, obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, that were written later that day by Department of Defence official Cathal Duffy to Brian Spain, the director of defence, based on conversations with Lt Col (now Col) Barry Hanan.

“The [Air Corps] are very unhappy,” wrote Mr Duffy. “The Minister phoned the pilot shortly after Vincent was informed at 7.05am that the mission had to be cancelled,” wrote Mr Duffy.

“The Minister’s opening line was, ‘I need to understand why we’re not going to Cork’. The pilot explained the situation regarding fog in Cork but I am informed that the Minister’s tone was one of frustration and the comment was made that he has ‘a very important meeting in Cork’.”

A sense was conveyed to the pilot “that this is also your problem”, says the email. “According to Barry, the pilot is not happy about receiving this call and Barry stated that from the [Air Corps] perspective they are not either and they have never received such a call in 25 years.”

Col Hanan was relieved the call had been taken “by an experienced Comdt pilot with 20 years’ experience who is well able to hold his ground” rather than “a less experienced” pilot.

Later, Mr Lowe, “presumably at the direction of the Minister”, phoned the pilot to say there was no fog in Cork. “This was seen by the pilot . . . as ‘rubbing it in’ and has added to their annoyance,” said the email.

In late May, Mr Coveney was asked about the incident but his spokeswoman said he would not comment. Asked again yesterday, there was no response from his spokeswoman.