73 Untimely deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical scandal

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 73 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 60 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 37 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • Approximately a third of deaths are from  cancer
  • Approximately a third of deaths are from cardiac
  • Approximately a fifth of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 50 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths or murder.

Army officer’s case over report resolved after High Court proceedings withdrawn

A High Court action by a senior army officer over the State’s refusal to provide him with an independent report into his allegations of corruption and misconduct within the military has been resolved, and the case withdrawn.

The action was brought by the Defence Forces Head of Legal Services Colonel Jerry Lane against the Minister for Defence, Ireland and the Attorney General.

When the case commenced this week, the court heard the proceedings arose over concerns raised by Col Lane several years ago that preferential treatment was being afforded to another member of the Defence Forces to the detriment of other members.

Counsel said in 2010, his client attempted to raise the issue of the other officer’s alleged preferential treatment through the chain of military command, but claimed that nothing was done.

Col Lane’s concerns were that the other officer was selected for, but ultimately did not get, a senior position which Col Lane claimed the other person was ineligible for.

Col Lane, from Bandon, Co Cork, made a protected disclosure to members of Seanad Éireann regarding his concerns which were raised in the Seanad in 2011.

Arising out of the disclosure, he claims he was subjected to a range of penalties, including threats of dismissal and involuntary retirement from the Defence Forces, but those threats were subsequently set aside.

Number of cases being defended by Department of Defence against former staff rises to eight

The Department of Defence has confirmed that the number of cases it is defending against former Defence Forces staff over chemical exposure in the Air Corps has risen to eight.

Detail of the new case emerged as Sinn Fein prepares a motion calling for Oireachtas inquiry into the health and safety management at Air Corps headquarters at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

In January 2017, this newspaper revealed how the Department of Defence had received a number of protected disclosures from whistleblowers alleging serious shortcomings in how Air Corps maintenance staff were protected from exposure to cancer-causing substances.

We also reported how, at the time, six former members who suffer a range of chronic illnesses, took High Court action against the State over what they said was a failure to train them properly on the dangers of the chemicals they used, or to provide them with adequate personal protective equipment.

These six former members had received the opinion of a toxicopathologist who linked their illnesses to their working conditions.

The Department has now confirmed that the number of cases has risen to eight, and this newspaper understands that a number of others are considering similar action.

Call for inquiry into allegations members of Defence Forces suffered due to toxic chemical exposure

The Dáil is to consider establishing a special Oireachtas inquiry into claims that Defence Forces personnel suffered serious health consequences over decades as a result of toxic chemical exposure – allegations first revealed by the Irish Examiner.

They believe these exposures could have caused the deaths and serious illnesses of former staff.

These whistle-blowers also submitted a complaint to the Health and Safety Authority, who inspected conditions at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel and threatened legal action against the Defence Forces unless it made improvements in how Air Corps staff are protected from the effects of the toxic chemicals.

Meanwhile, the State is defending seven personal injury claims from former Air Corps members who have been told by a toxico-pathologist that their chronic illnesses were caused by their exposure to chemicals used in the line of duty.

The Government first received protected disclosures from whistleblowers in December 2015, and an independent report on the claims found appropriate records to demonstrate the Air Corps compliance with health and safety standards “are not readily available.”

However, despite receiving that report in the summer of 2017, no subsequent action has been taken by the Government, nearly two years later.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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There have been 22 untimely deaths of Irish Air Corps serving & former personnel since the first health and safety related protected disclosure was made to Simon Coveney in December 2015.

This Fine Gael government appear quite happy to sit back and let our colleagues die. At least 3 of the 22 deaths were suicides and therefore preventable.

Delay – Deny – Die

Whistleblower feels ‘left out on a limb’ by minister

An Air Corps whistleblower, leaving the Defence Forces, feels “left out on a limb” by the minister to whom he appealed for help, the Dáil has heard.

Last month, the Irish Examiner revealed that the serving member wrote to the Defence Forces chief of staff to inform him of a decision to retire early over what was claimed was the authority’s failure to protect him from persecution as a result of concerns he had raised.

Last November, the whistleblower wrote to Paul Kehoe, the junior defence minister, complaining of the “unwarranted treatment” he had received after submitting a protected disclosure on health and safety issues.

The whistleblower is one of a number who has raised concerns over Air Corps staff exposure to cancer-causing chemicals while servicing and maintaining aircraft. The State is fighting seven personal injury cases being taken by former Air Corps members suffering chronic illnesses they say were caused by exposure suffered during their service.

The whistleblower’s early retirement was raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley, who asked Mr Kehoe what action, if any, he had taken on receiving correspondence from the member last November.

Mr Buckley said: “No action was taken on foot of a letter dated 28 November 2018 appealing for the Minister of State’s intervention and asking what protection he was giving to this serving member at the time. What actions were taken on foot of the original protected disclosure?

Mr Kehoe said he would leave the matter in the hands of the Ombudsman. “I will not stand over anybody being wronged. I encourage the person to whom the deputy is referring to go to the Defence Forces Ombudsman. He or she may have done so but I assure the deputy the case will be dealt with in an independent and fair way. The ombudsman provides that facility in an independent way.”

Unfortunately, this person has left the service because of the way he has been treated. He believes he has been let down. He has served his country with distinction. He thought he was doing the right thing by disclosing what was going on but he is now in a position where he cannot keep his job which will affect him in many other ways.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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The last thing Minister Kehoe wants is more whistle-blowers feeling it is safe to make further protected disclosures about wrongdoing at the Irish Air Corps. By “passing the buck” Minister Kehoe’s non intervention is allowing the ongoing victimisation of of Air Corps personnel.

Said ombudsman will probably be invited to visit Baldonnel and then wined & dined in the Officers Mess by the perpertrators of the greatest workplace health & safety tragedy in modern Irish history.

That is of course unless he hasn’t been invited already.

Delay – Deny – Die

Hearings needed into Air Corps whistle-blower claims – Ó Snodaigh

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called for an Oireachtas inquiry into the claims made by Air Corps whistle-blowers that Defence Forces personnel suffered serious health consequences over decades as a result of toxic chemical exposure.

Teachta Ó Snodaigh said:

“I have drafted a Dáil motion calling for the establishment of a special Oireachtas committee to conduct relevant hearings into the claims made by Air Corps whistle-blowers and I will be seeking cross party support for it.”

“Informal research made by one of the whistle-blowers, provided to the Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe, raises questions over a number of deaths of former serving Air Corps personnel. Currently 73 deaths have occurred to personnel aged under 66 with the average age of 50.”

“The research has pointed to an unexplained, higher than normal concentration of very rare illnesses among relatively young former Air Corps personnel. They have called for a full health survey of serving and former Air Corps members, and those who worked in the Aerodrome to be carried out.”

“The aim of survey would be to try and quantify fully the scale and range of the health issue which they have linked to daily exposure to dangerous, corrosive and carcinogenic chemicals in areas of the Air Corps base.”

“The State was aware of these concerns following a number of reports Health and Safety drafted as early as the 1990s which highlighted dangerous working conditions and chemical exposures in Casement Aerodrome, in Baldonnel, County Dublin, which were not acted on.”

Please read the press release in full on the Sinn Féin website.

http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/52575

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DELAY – DENY – DIE

Case over chemical exposure at Casement dismissed

A case taken against the State by a former maintenance worker who claims his illnesses were caused by his exposure to chemicals while in the Air Corps has been dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.

The case saw legal representatives acting on behalf of former Air Corps member Ian Coughlan at odds with the State as to when Mr Coughlan was first aware that his medical complaints may have been connected to his exposure to chemicals in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

Mr Coughlan has suffered or continues to experience skin rashes, sleep disturbance, fatigue, mood changes, occasional bloody diarrhoea, skin and eye discolouration, and short-term memory loss. He began proceedings against the State in 2013.

His personal injury summons against the State alleged 24 instances of negligence and breach of duty. He alleged the Air Corps failed to provide him with a safe system of work, appropriate training for the safe handling of the chemicals he was required to work with, and that proper safety measures to protect him from the ill-effects of the chemicals were not implemented.

Mr Coughlan brought his legal challenge within months of receiving the opinion of toxicopathologist professor Vyvyan Howard, who said he believed his ongoing medical complaints were as a direct result of his exposure to chemicals while working in Casement Aerodrome.

However, the State argued Mr Coughlan’s claim was statute barred as he was aware of a potential connection more than two years before he commenced legal action. It said discussions in medical examinations around Mr Coughlan’s handling of chemicals while he was serving in the Air Corps meant he possessed the requisite knowledge to bring a case between 2007 and 2009 — at least four years before he began legal action.

However, in a sworn affidavit, Mr Coughlan said at no time during that period was he advised his symptoms and illnesses were related to his working environment.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Despite Mr. Coughlan having no evidence to bring a case against the state until 2013, Mr Justice Meenan said Mr Coughlan should have brought the case against the State by 2011 at the latest.

Delay – Deny – Die

Air Corps whistleblower’s decision to retire “demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process”

The Irish Examiner revealed today that the whistle-blower – one of three who has previously raised concerns about staff’s exposure to chemicals – has announced his decision to retire early.

His decision comes two months after telling Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe that he has not received assurances from Defence Forces hierarchy that he is not being targeted for making protected disclosures.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said a list of deaths compiled by one Air Corps whistle-blower requires explanation.

The list, the existence of which was previously reported in this newspaper, contains the details of more than 70 deaths of former Air Corps staff that the whistle-blower believes may be connected to chemical exposures at the force’s headquarters in Casement Aerodrome.

She described the revelation that a whistle-blower is to retire early as ‘shocking’.

“I’m very concerned about the treatment of whistle-blowers and people making disclosures, as some arms of the public service are not dealing with them as comprehensively or fairly as they should,” Ms Murphy said.

Fianna Fáil Defence spokesman, Jack Chambers, said the whistle-blower’s decision “demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process” and will act as a deterrent to anyone else who is thinking about coming forward.

“This is symptomatic of the general malaise that has been allowed to fester within the Defence Forces under the current Minister. Whistle-blowers who feel that their only next option is to retire demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process and it certainly doesn’t encourage others who have issues of concern from engaging with the process.”

Air corps whistleblower was ‘isolated, vilified’

An air corps whistle-blower has written to the Defence Forces Chief of Staff to inform him of his decision to retire early over what he has claimed is the authority’s failure to protect him.

The decision comes two months after the whistle-blower wrote to junior defence minister Paul Kehoe complaining of the “unwarranted treatment” he has received since he submitted a protected disclosure on health-and-safety issues.

In this communication with Mr Kehoe, the whistle blower included signed statements from two air corps personnel, the contents of which, he said, were evidence of an attempt by those in authority to “isolate and vilify” him and turn his colleagues against him.

He is one of three whistle blowers to make complaints about the chemical exposure suffered by air corps maintenance staff, the details of which were first revealed by the Irish Examiner two years ago.

The commanding officer further pointed to previous complaints made against him by the whistle-blower, which he said constitutes “a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour” against him.

The commanding officer further pointed to previous complaints made against him by the whistle-blower, which he said constitutes “a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour” against him.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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If said commanding officer felt he was targeted by a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour by a subordinate the Defence Forces have measures in place to deal with such behaviour through military law.

If the commanding officer didn’t act to use existing disciplinary mechanisms against his subordinate why did he introduce such complaints when he himself was being investigated? 

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Debates Other Questions 17/1/19 – Defence Forces Equipment

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 11

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if all Defence Forces and Air Corps officers are trained in the use of respirators and-or breathing apparatus in the context of handling chemicals and toxic material; if the use of same is now mandatory; and the date on which it became mandatory. [1803/19]

This question relates to the change in the health and safety regime brought about in recent years because of disclosures from whistle-blowers, which have led to changes in health and safety in the Air Corps in particular. Are all Defence Forces and Air Corps officers trained in the use of respirators and breathing apparatus in the context of handling chemicals and toxic material which, in the past, were wrongly handled and possibly exposed people to poisoning and ill-health?

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I am advised by the military authorities that all members of the Defence Forces are trained in the fitting of the general service respirator as part of their basic training and that tests of elementary training are conducted annually in a respirator test facility. This training is in keeping with chemical, biological, radioactive and neurological (WTF?) training that all Defence Forces personnel undergo following basic training.

I am further advised by the military authorities that only those Defence Forces personnel who are required to work with chemicals and toxins are required to undergo respiratory protective equipment training. Such training is provided to members of the Defence Forces in accordance with the relevant health and safety legislation.

With regard to the Air Corps, I am advised that it uses two types of respiratory protective equipment depending on the type of activity being carried out. These are respirators, which are air purifying, and breathing apparatus, through which air is supplied. I am advised that personnel who require respiratory protective equipment training are trained as necessary.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

I welcome the Minister of State’s statement but part of the question was when did it become mandatory. The final part of the reply seems to suggest that not all Air Corps personnel are trained in the use of respirators. When exactly did it become mandatory for all Defence Force personnel to have this training? Is the training in full use currently?

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

With regard to the Air Corps, I am surprised that people who specifically deal with chemicals are trained in the wearing of respirators only if they are involved in dealing with these types of chemicals. Full training is given to these people and they undergo relevant retraining to ensure they are fully trained.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

The question is when that happened.

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I do not have a specific date but to my knowledge full training is carried out in line with what is required. I will come back to the Deputy with a specific date.

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DELAY – DENY – DIE