Air Corps Commissioning Ceremony, Casement Aerodrome,
Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Mr Paul Kehoe, T.D
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Secretary General at the Department of Defence, Mr Maurice Quinn; Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett; Assistant Secretary at the Department of Defence, Mr Robert Mooney; General Officer Commanding the Air Corps, Brigadier General Sean Clancy; Oireachtas Members, Councillors, Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure for me to be present here today at Baldonnel to participate in one of the most important occasions in the Air Corps’ calendar.
First and foremost, I would like to welcome the families and friends of the six young officers being commissioned here today.
This is an immensely proud day for you all. You have witnessed first-hand the hard work and dedication of our new officers.
You have offered your support and encouragement over the past 36 months and your presence here today only adds to this special occasion.
This is a very important event for the Air Corps and in particular for the six young officers who have successfully completed their training to become pilot officers of the Permanent Defence Force.
Colin, Gavin, Lorcan, Mark, Paul and Colin - today represents the culmination of years of hard work and commitment.
The scrolls I have just presented indicate that each of you is now a commissioned officer of Óglaigh na hÉireann.
The solemn oath you took today, to be faithful to the Irish State and to uphold the Constitution, marks you out from many other professions.
I know that none of you will undertake these responsibilities lightly.
Today’s ceremony is an important milestone in the education and training of the 34th Air Corps Cadet Class and represents the culmination of their 36 month cadetship which began in October 2015.
We stand here today with young leaders who through rigorous academic, practical and physical education and training, have been determined suitable for commissioning as Officers of the Air Corps.
Earlier today each of the six newly commissioned officers was presented with their military pilot “Wings” in official recognition of their qualification as pilots.
I wish to offer my warmest congratulations to all of you for the commitment you are making to the State. All of you, together with your families and friends, can be justifiably proud of your achievement.
The 34th Cadet Class is made up of six young men from different backgrounds and experiences.
As they now begin the first step of their journey as commissioned officers, they will serve to further add to the rich range of talents and experience currently held within the officer body and the men and women of the Air Corps.
These newly commissioned officers will now make the transition onto the various fixed and rotary wing aircraft of their new squadrons, carrying out the many roles and responsibilities entrusted in them by their military pilot’s wings and presidential commission and I wish them well in their future careers with the Air Corps.
The Defence Forces are a key part of the State’s security architecture and the Air Corps delivers essential components of the State’s Defence capabilities.
The Air Corps makes an important contribution across a wide variety of roles assigned by Government.
The success of the Air Corps in the areas of fishery protection, the EAS service, air ambulance supports, supports to Defence Forces joint operations, drug interdictions and the provision of aid to the civil power and aid to the civil authorities, is clear for all to see.
These high profile roles have the added benefit of conveying the importance of the Air Corps to the wider community.
Air Corps assets were deployed on numerous occasions during the hot weather experienced this past summer. One operation in particular stands out for mention due to its cross border dimension. It relates to a request from the Northern Ireland Fire Service for assistance when gorse fires had developed just across the border.
Air Corps helicopters were deployed into Northern Ireland to assist in firefighting. It has been acknowledged that the intervention of the Air Corps helped extinguish the fires and limited the environmental destruction.
But it what it shows me as minister, is that our Air Corps will quickly respond, if in a position to do so, when our nearest neighbour requires our help.
It must not be lost on us that it was the men and women of the Irish Air Corps who were first to the skies when communities just a few hundred kilometres north of here found themselves in difficulty.
Equipment priorities for the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps are being considered in the context of the lifetime of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and equipment planning process.
In this context the principal aim over the period of the White Paper will be to replace and upgrade, as required, existing capabilities in order to retain a flexible response for a wide range of operational requirements both at home and overseas.
In terms of the Air Corps, the White Paper provides that the Air Corps will see the Cessna fleet replaced with three larger aircraft suitably equipped for Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) tasks.
Following an open tender competition, a contract has been placed with Pilatus Aircraft Ltd, at a cost of €32 million, for the provision of three PC-12 fixed wing utility aircraft suitably equipped for ISTAR tasks. It is expected that the three aircraft will be delivered by 2020.
The White Paper also provides for the replacement of two CASA 235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft with consideration of their replacement with larger more capable aircraft. A public tender competition for the replacement of the CASA Maritime Patrol Aircraft is underway in my Department at present.
But while the continued investment in equipment forms an important part of the overall narrative, we as a government are also investing in our people: The women and men of Óglaigh na hÉireann.
Let me be very clear: I and the Government are very cognisant of the challenges facing the Defence Forces and the concerns about pay and condition.
It was therefore on my direction that issues relating to pay and conditions in the Defence Forces were prioritised by the Public Service Pay Commission, which is due to report in the coming months.
Furthermore, I specifically sought that issues relating to retention in the Air Corps formed the basis of a separate submission to the Pay Commission.
I look forward to seeing the outcome of the Commission’s work, which will form the basis of the steps required to move forward.
But today is a celebration of real achievement and marks the passing of a great milestone in the lives of these six young officers.
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 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, including your country.
Education and Training is very important in all walks of life. The provision of high quality education and training is paramount in the wider Defence Forces. The Air Corps cadetship produces Pilot Officers who are of the highest standard, are internationally recognised and are expected to continue learning throughout their career.
This life-long learning is required to ensure that the Air Corps is equipped to meet the future needs of Government and society.
One of my key messages to you all here today is that this should not mark the end of your educational journey.
Set your sights on embarking on further courses and educational opportunities.
I say to the family members present today to encourage your loved ones to continue to develop their skills and take on new challenges.
Before I conclude, I would like to pay tribute to the staff of the Military College and the Flying Training School involved in preparing these cadets for officer duty.
They deserve a special mention for the care and dedication, which they have brought to the task of developing and nurturing these young people for their future careers. The fruits of their labour stand before us today and they can be proud of the good work they have done.
I also want to pay tribute to GOC of the Air Corps. Brigadier General Sean Clancy.
Sean, you continue to show tremendous leadership and I have no doubt the experience and confidence you instill in your officers will not be lost on the six people here before us.
My thanks also to everyone involved here today in the arrangements for this impressive ceremony, particularly, the Army No. 1 Band under the baton of Captain Fergal Carroll.
Today, however, belongs to these new officers. They are charged with providing leadership and guidance to others: A responsibility, I have no doubt, they will discharge with integrity and excellence.
Congratulations to one and all and I hope that you enjoy the rest of the day.
Thank you very much.