Ex-Air Corps captain awarded €117,800 over gender discrimination

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered the Minister for Defence to pay €117,814 in compensation to a former female captain in the Air Corps.

WRC adjudication officer, Stephen Bonnlander has made the maximum possible compensation after finding Yvonne O’Rourke was victim to gender discrimination arising from “an unacceptable systematic failure” in the Defence Forces.

After a seven-year battle by Ms O’Rourke, Mr Bonnlander found she was discriminated against on gender grounds in her efforts to secure promotion.

Based at Baldonnell Aerodrome, Ms O’Rourke asserted the Defence Forces discriminated against her on the ground of her gender, in that it treated two maternity leave absences from work as equivalent to the sick absence of a male officer, and consequently gave her a poor performance rating.

The poor rating for 2010 and 2011 impacted on Ms O’Rourke’s ability to go on a mandatory training course which was required to advance to the rank of commander.

Chief Commissioner of the IHREC, Sinead Gibney stated

That Yvonne O’Rourke was treated by the Defence Forces “as if she were a man who had been on long-term sick leave rather than as a pregnant woman”.

By the time Ms O’Rourke was approved by the general officer commanding of the Air Corps to attend the Junior Command and Staff Course (JCSC), her health had deteriorated to the point that she was unable to take up the opportunity and was later retired from the Defence Forces on the grounds of ill health in July 2016.

In a hard-hitting ruling, Mr Bonnlander stated “It beggars belief that women should have been serving in the Irish Defence Forces for decades, without the Forces’ systems and instruction ever having been appropriately updated to ensure they reflect anti-discrimination law as it applies to pregnancy and maternity”.

The hearing at the WRC for Ms O’Rourke’s case against the Minister for Defence spanned six days.

In the long-running action, Ms O’Rourke was represented by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), which instructed a senior and junior counsel in the case.

Speaking today, Ms O’Rourke stated:

“I hope that what has been achieved in this outcome and  determination will shine some light on the areas of darkness that needed to be revealed within the Irish Defence Forces. I hope that this small victory will somewhat; smooth the path, pave the way forward, and inspire those left behind, to have their difficulties, hurts, issues and problems of; discrimination, victimisation, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment heard and subsequently addressed in a more expedient fashion than my seven-year struggle.”

Read full report on Irish Times website below

Five years on from protected disclosures Air Corps whistleblowers still ‘waiting for justice’

IT IS NOW five years since former members of the Air Corps submitted protected disclosures detailing allegations that they became unwell due to their exposure to dangerous chemicals at Baldonnel Airfield.

Since then, whistleblower Gavin Tobin and several of his colleagues have been trying to have their full case heard in the courts. Tobin is currently involved in litigation against the State. That remains in the discovery phase as Tobin waits for more files to be handed over.

Last July (2019), a five-panel Supreme Court hearing unanimously found in favour of Tobin, meaning the State must now disclose documents outlining any chemicals that Tobin may have been exposed to while working at the airfield between 1990 and 1999.

Tobin has been continuing to log what he has described as the untimely deaths of his colleagues. Of the 85 deaths he has cited, five relate to the 1980s seven to the 1990s and the rest have taken place since 2000.

Tobin also contacted then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2017, when Varadkar also held the Defence portfolio. Tobin said: “Subsequent protected disclosures to Varadkar were either ignored or forwarded to then Junior Minister Paul Kehoe.

“Absolutely nothing has been done to provide targeted healthcare for exposed personnel since this date despite damning findings by the HSA which the Department of Defence continue to try to downplay.”

The average age of death of the cases recorded by Tobin stands at 50 years old. Tobin believes the number of deaths from chemical exposure could be as high as 100.

The 2016 HSA report warned the Air Corps it could face prosecution if it did not “comply with advice and relevant legal requirements” about how hazardous substances were managed, among other safety matters.

The HSA’s report stated immediate attention was needed at Baldonnel and that protective equipment must be made available to staff. The necessary equipment should include protective gear for eyes and hands, as well as respirators to protect against inhalation of toxic fumes.

The whistle-blowers in this case alleges there was a disregard for the safety of young Air Corps members. According to an online resource created for those who believe they were affected by the chemical exposure, there was:

  • No meaningful chemical risk assessments.
  • No risk specific health surveillance
  • No Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) issued
  • No chemical health and safety training whatsoever
  • No reporting of health and safety incidents
  • No follow up of unusual illnesses by medical personnel
  • Ignoring dangerous air quality reports
  • Personnel doused in toxic chemicals as pranks (hazing) incidents
  • Highly toxic chemicals disposed of onsite in an unsafe manner

Read full article on The Journal website below…

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To be clear, the original Protected Disclosure made in November 2015 was to make Minister Simon Coveney aware that chemical health & safety at the Irish Air Corps was completely sub standard and an ongoing threat to the health of the men & women who worked there & their families. 

The appalling working conditions that Tobin alleges harmed his health in the 1990s still prevailed in 2015. Since his Protected Disclosure his and other whistle-blower allegations of poor chemical health & safety work practices have been vindicated by both the Health & Safety Authority and the “Independent Third Party Investigator” appointed by Minister Paul Kehoe. 

The priorities of the Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors are firstly to prevent further unnecessary loss of life amongst survivors and secondly to improve the quality of life of survivors by reducing unnecessary suffering. Both the Royal Australian Air Force & the Armed forces of the Netherlands have offered templates as to how to approach unfortunate workplace chemical exposure issues with competence, fairness, justice & urgency.

At no point have ACCAS nor any of the whistle-blowers sought any legal intervention into ongoing court cases. 

Delay – Deny – Die

20 Air Corps personnel died prematurely since whistleblower contacted Varadkar in 2017, Dáil hears

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19 men and 1 woman have died since the Varadkar was approached for help. Subsequent protected disclosures to Varadkar were either ignored or forwarded to then Junior Minister Paul Kehoe.

Absolutely nothing has been done to provide targeted healthcare for  exposed personnel since this date despite damning findings by the HSA which the Department of Defence continue to try to downplay. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Taoiseach under pressure as SCA slow to hand over air corps documents

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27 men and one woman have died since the first whistleblower raised concerns of untimely deaths in a Protected Disclosure to the Minister for Defence in 2015.

Absolutely nothing has been done to provide targeted healthcare for exposed personnel since this date despite damning findings by the HSA which the Department of Defence continue to try to downplay. 

Call to strike out army’s defence of chemicals exposure case

Irish Air Corps Gulfstream IV #251 that could not fit inside hangar.

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Who would have thought that an arm of the state could simply ignore the highest court in the land with absolute impunity?

The Irish Air Corps are now at the stage of offering “dog ate my homework” excuses while personnel continue to suffer and die needlessly

Army blames Covid-19 for continued failure to give affidavit to former Air Corps mechanic

Investigation after bag suspected to contain cocaine found at Baldonnel airbase

An investigation has been launched after a bag suspected to contain cocaine was found at the Baldonnel airbase.

Officers Mess – Baldonnel

According to a Defence Forces source, the bag was found outside the Officers’ Mess car park last night.

A spokesperson for the Air Corps said: “I can confirm that an unknown substance was recovered in an area of unused ground in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

“A Military Police investigation has commenced.

“Óglaigh na hÉireann does not comment on ongoing Military Police Investigations.”

Former Defence Forces mechanic wins appeal over order halting damages claim

Court of Appeal overturns High Court finding over action time limits

A former aircraft mechanic with the Defence Forces has won his appeal against an order halting his damages action over injuries allegedly suffered as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

The Court of Appeal overturned a High Court finding that Ian Coughlan’s action was brought outside the applicable time limits and thus bound to fail.

The High Court relied on inadmissible evidence in coming to that finding, the three judge Court of Appeal held in its judgment on Wednesday.

The application to halt the case must now be reconsidered in line with the Court of Appeal’s findings.

 

Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Coughlan, both during and after his employment with the Defence Forces, attended a large number of doctors about his complaints. Mr Coughlan himself has long believed there was an association between his complaints and his working environment but says he was repeatedly assured by doctors he was wrong about this, the judge noted.

Mr Coughlan says it was only in November 2011, when he got a verbal opinion from a clinical toxico-pathologist, a Professor Howard, that he became aware of a causal link between his symptoms and his employment.

He claimed that was his date of knowledge for his cause of action and, because his proceedings were issued in 2013, they were within the two – year limit stipulated in the Statute of Limitations Act.

The defendants argued his date of knowledge long pre-dated the November 2011 opinion. They said he had seen a toxicologist, a Dr Wood, in London in 2008 and exhibited a January 2009 report by Dr Wood in arguing his claim was statute barred.

The judge found an objection by counsel for Mr Coughlan to the admissibility of the Wood report on hearsay grounds was “well-founded”. The Wood report had the same status as a document produced in the course of discovery, it does not prove itself and it was inadmissible as hearsay, he held.

Even if the report was properly admitted and properly proved, fair procedures required its contents should have been put to Mr Coughlan in cross-examination to give him a fair opportunity to deal with it, he also held.

Read full article on the Irish Times website below…

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It should be noted that in order to comply with a recent Supreme Court order in relation to a separate case the Irish Air Corps have until the 6th of April to provide a full list of toxic workplace chemicals they have withheld from former personnel. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Former Defence Forces mechanic wins appeal over order halting ‘chemicals’ damages claim

A former aircraft mechanic with the Defence Forces has won his appeal against an order halting his damages action over injuries allegedly suffered as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals at work.

The Court of Appeal overturned a High Court finding that Ian Coughlan’s action was brought outside the applicable time limits and thus bound to fail.

In proceedings against the Minister for Defence and the State, he alleges he was exposed to toxic chemicals used for degreasing aircraft parts, was not provided with proper protection against the effects of those and suffered personal injuries.

Among various claims, he alleges he suffered dizziness, skin rashes, nasal irritation, sores, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue and headaches, skin yellowness and bloody diarrhoea.

Mr Justice Noonan said Mr Coughlan, both during and after his employment with the Defence Forces, attended a large number of doctors about his complaints. Mr Coughlan himself has long believed there was an association between his complaints and his working environment but says he was repeatedly assured by doctors he was wrong about this, the judge noted.

Mr Coughlan says it was only in November 2011, when he got a verbal opinion from a clinical toxico-pathologist, a Professor Howard, he became aware of a causal link between his symptoms and his employment.

He claimed that was his date of knowledge for his cause of action and, because his proceedings were issued in 2013, they were within the two year limit stipulated in the Statute of Limitations Act.

The defendants argued his date of knowledge long pre-dated the November 2011 opinion. They said he had seen a toxicologist, a Dr Wood, in London in 2008 and exhibited a January 2009 report by Dr Wood in arguing his claim was statute barred.

Mr Coughlan said in an affidavit Dr Wood was “very much limited” in expressing an opinion as to any causal connection between his employment and his injuries because of a lack of information available to the doctor concerning the chemicals and solvents to which he had been exposed.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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It should be noted that in order to comply with a recent Supreme Court order in relation to a separate case the Irish Air Corps have until the 6th of April to provide a full list of toxic workplace chemicals they have withheld from former personnel. 

Delay – Deny – Die

Protestors encourage voters not to give Paul Kehoe any preference votes

Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe is being targeted by former members of the Defence Forces who are trying to encourage voters in the forthcoming General Election not to vote for him.

The former Fine Gael chief whip has been a Fine Gael TD for County Wexford since he was first elected to the Dáil in May 2002 and a Minister of State for Defence since 2016.

In the last election, he secured a seat in the Dáil by beating his nearest rival Sinn Féin’s Johnny Mythen by just 52 votes.

Protestors are targeting his constituency offices and those of his party colleagues Michael D’Arcy.

They want to encourage people not to give Deputy Kehoe any preference votes, which helped get him elected the last time round.

The protesters are former members of the Air Corps who belong to the Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors (ACCAS) who claim they suffer illnesses due to their exposure to toxic chemicals while working for the Air Corps.

According to the group, Minister Kehoe has done little or nothing to help them get the medical support and health screening services they want.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Please view the honourable & fair demands of
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors
 here.

Delay – Deny – Die