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Speech by the Minister for Defence, Mr. Willie O’Dea, T.D. at the Commissioning Ceremony for the 26th Air Corps Cadet Class and
the Presentation of the Distinguished Service Medal, with Honour, posthumously to the crew members of the Dauphin DH 248.

Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel 19th June 2008.

Secretary General, Chief of Staff, General Officer Commanding the Air Corps, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be at Casement Aerodrome for this most important occasion. Today is both a day of celebration and a day of sadness and remembrance. It is a day where we mark the entry of eight new officers into the commissioned ranks and a day where we pay tribute and to do honour to the families of four members of the Air Corps who lost their lives in July 1999.

There will be two ceremonies this afternoon commencing with Commissioning of the 26th Air Corps Cadet Class followed by the Presentation of the Distinguished Service Medal, with Honour, posthumously to the crew members of the Dauphin DH 248.

Commissioning of the 26th Air Corps Cadet Class.
I want first to offer my congratulations to the eight young men of the 26th Air Corps Cadet Class who have just received their commissions and their families. You are, together with your families and friends, entitled to feel enormously proud of what you have achieved.
A few moments ago these young officer pilots took an Oath to the Irish State and its people. This Oath distinguishes them from others and it requires others under their command to make the same commitment in the performance of their duty. They have chosen a career of service to their country - a career for which courage, commitment and professionalism will be their guiding light.

Earlier today each of the eight newly commissioned officers was presented with their military pilot “Wings” in official recognition of their qualification as pilots.

This ceremony marks the culmination of 33 months of commitment, dedication and, above all, hard work. These eight young men have been fully occupied since they first entered the 26th Air Corps Cadet Class. Their first stage of training at the Curragh Military College introduced them to military life. There they learned a multitude of skills alongside their Army and Naval counterparts as part of the 82nd Cadet Class.

The 82nd Cadet Class is particularly noteworthy as it took an important role in the commemorations for the 90th Anniversary of 1916 Easter Rising. I’m sure that it is a day what will live long in their memories.

Since then, they have successfully completed their flying training, each member having achieved approximately 200 hours flying time. These newly commissioned officers are the future of the Air Corps and it is with great pride they have been given the opportunity to continue the proud record of service to the nation by the Air Corps and its pilots.

As Minister for Defence, I am delighted with the investment we have made in the Air Corps in recent years. The comprehensive investment programme includes the new AW139 helicopters. These have added a new and exciting dimension to the work of the Air Corps. There are proving to be a very valuable asset and have made a huge impact with their impressive capabilities in different areas. The delivery, later this year, of two additional AW139 helicopters will see the completion of a very substantial helicopter programme that will stand to the Air Corps over the next twenty years or so.

In addition, a major mid life upgrade on the two Casa maritime patrol aircraft, at a cost of €16.5m, is underway. Work on the first aircraft is now complete; work on the second aircraft is currently underway. Recently a major refurbishment of the Avionics Workshop was completed at a cost of just over €3million and an extensive refurbishment of the existing training and accommodation facility is due to commence next month.

As I have already said, this is an important day for the eight people here before us today. As pilot officers of the Air Corps each of you has chosen a very challenging and demanding career – but one that is also very fulfilling and rewarding. I earnestly hope that you all will enjoy the many positive and enjoyable aspects of military life. Foremost amongst these are the comradeship, the challenges and the very high level of job satisfaction that comes from leading and serving others.

I would also like to complement all of your instructors from the Flying Training School without whose patience, dedication and experience this event could not have taken place.

Last night the Chief of Staff and I returned from a very interesting and fulfilling visit to Chad. I was honoured to spend time with our troops on the ground in their new camp – Camp Ciara. There I witnessed, at first hand, the difference they are making to the victims of the Darfur atrocities. The Defence Forces record and tradition of supporting international peace and security with the United Nations is second to none. It is a tradition whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year. Over those 50 years, the committed and dedicated service of members of the Defence Forces in overseas missions has brought great honour on the Defence Forces and on the nation as a whole.

Presentation to the Crew Members of Dauphin DH 248
I would now like to move on to the second part of today’s important ceremony.
We are gathered here today in remembrance of the sacrifice of the four members of the Air Corps who lost their lives while returning from a successful rescue mission in the early hours of the 2nd July 1999. The names of the four brave and dedicated crew members who lost their lives that night:
Captain David O’Flaherty
Captain Michael Baker
Sergeant Patrick Mooney
Corporal Niall Byrne

live on in the hearts and minds of their families, friends and Air Corps comrades.

I want to express again our deepest sympathy and most sincere regret at their tragic loss. I do this as Minister and also on behalf of the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence. I also want to tell you how deeply we regret the length of time that it has taken for us to acknowledge your loved ones sacrifice in way we are today.

The recently appointed military board considered the events of that dreadful night and recommended that the four men be posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, with Honour.

The Board found, and I quote, that the crew displayed “outstanding qualities of bravery and devotion to duty, on the night of July 1st 1999, while remaining on station over a stricken vessel off the Waterford Coast, in hazardous conditions”. The Board concluded that the men, aware of the risk to their own lives, guided the stricken vessel, its occupants and a lifeboat to safety, thereby reflecting the highest standards of courage and loyalty in the best tradition of the Defence Forces.

On the night of 1st July 1999, the crew had responded to a Mayday Call from a boat with four adults and one child onboard. The weather conditions on the night were adverse, with low cloud base and limited visibility hampering the mission. Despite this, and the limited support available at Waterford Airport, the crew decided to respond to the call in the best traditions of the Air Corps Search and Rescue service – Go Mairidis Beo (That others may live).

Having located the vessel and confirmed that the lifeboat had reached it, the crew were requested to remain on station as the lifeboat GPS system had become unreliable. They remained with the lifeboat, risking their own safety, and helped guide it safely to shore.

Following the successful rescue, and in attempting to land on Tramore Beach, the helicopter collided with the loss of all four crew members on board. In the performance of their duty, the crew of Dauphin DH 248 gave their lives so that others might live.

I want to thank all the members of the O’Flaherty, Baker, Mooney and Byrne families who are here with us today. I hope that separate arrangements can be made to present the Distinguished Service Medal to the parents of the late Capt Baker.

I know that coming to Baldonnel probably evokes many sad and difficult memories for all of you. However, I hope that you can take some consolation from the proud and noble service your loved ones have given to the State and in turn, the honour and that has, at last, been rightly accorded to the memory of these four brave young men. Today’s ceremony is both a tribute to their sacrifice and to your loyalty, your tenacity and your perseverance.

I am now honoured to present the Distinguished Service Medal with Honour to:
Vincent and Anna Byrne parents of the late Corporal Byrne;
Mrs Monica Mooney, widow of the late Sgt Mooney and
Miss Davina O’Flatherty, daughter of the late Captain O’Flaherty.
Thank you.

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19 June 2008
Commissioning Ceremony for the 26th Air Corps Cadet Class and the Presentation of the Distinguished Service Medal, with Honour, posthumously to the crew members of the Dauphin DH 248.
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