TDs to visit Air Corps HQ to ensure safety changes made

TDs and senators are to visit the Air Corps headquarters, amid fears for the health and safety of staff at Casement Aerodrome.

The move follows revelations in the Irish Examiner about conditions for technicians working on aircraft at the base.

The Air Corps has now invited members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, to see the changes it has implemented over the past year, following warnings from the State’s health watchdog.

Junior defence minister Paul Kehoe revealed details of the visit to the Committee.

“Under my instructions, the General Officer Commanding, GOC, Irish Air Corps, Brigadier General Seán Clancy, has invited the committee to visit the Air corps base and I ask that the chairman and the committee secretariat arrange that visit through my office,” he said.

The committee proposes to make the visit on March 27.

It is not clear whether the committee will meet with whistleblowers, or if it will discuss allegations, made through protected disclosures, with the Air Corps hierarchy.

 

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 13/02/17 – Department of Defence – Irish Air Corps Chemical Safety Compliance

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 102

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if all the recommendations of the 2016 health and safety inspection report at Baldonnel have been implemented; the timeframe for the completion of outstanding recommendations; if a further inspection is scheduled by the Health and Safety Authority to examine compliance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6933/18]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

On 21 October 2016, the HSA issued its Report of Inspection to the Air Corps. This Report listed a number of matters requiring attention which included the areas of risk assessment.

The Air Corps as a consequence of this HSA report have implemented an improvement plan, which was conducted over eight phases and completed in December 2017.

I have been informed by military authorities that the HSA has formally noted the high level of cooperation from the Air Corps. Any further inspection is a matter for the HSA alone.

It must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.

*****

The HSA noted high levels of cooperation from the Irish Army Air Corps after threatening legal action against them for non compliance with safety legislation.

Scores dead but at least they cooperated in the end. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Debates 07/02/18 – Leaders Questions on Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Scandal

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

Seven cases are being taken against the State by current and former serving members of the Air Corps. They believe that they have been forced to take this action by the State’s failure to protect them from their exposure to toxic chemicals during their service, which led to serious, chronic and fatal illnesses, including cancer. While those cases will ultimately be dealt with by the courts, that does not prevent the State from taking action. As early as the 1990s, numerous State-commissioned reports highlighted health and safety concerns about chemical exposure at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, but no action was taken at the time. In fact, these reports mysteriously disappeared or were ordered to be shredded. Even after litigation commenced in 2013, basic health and safety precautions were not implemented at Baldonnel. It appears it was only after the Health and Safety Authority conducted an inspection in 2016 that personnel were provided with basic precautions like personal protection equipment such as gloves and overalls.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of personnel who have passed through Baldonnel may be suffering from chronic and even fatal illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals during their service. There is also a possibility that family members have been affected, as evidence suggests that there is a higher rate of a variety of health conditions among spouses and children, including stillbirths and miscarriages. The Government has taken no action to find out the extent of this scandal or to ascertain how many people might be suffering as a result of it. Instead, it is fighting tooth and nail through the courts to force sick people to take gruelling journeys in search of justice. By comparison, the Australian Government has set up a board of inquiry to conduct a thorough investigation into similar matters. It commissioned a survey of health outcomes for the relevant personnel and their families and put in place a health care system for those who were affected.

As the Taoiseach knows, a protected disclosure from one of the whistleblowers was recently released publicly. It makes for harrowing reading. It lists 56 deaths of former serving Air Corps personnel at an average age of 48. All of the cases listed relate specifically to people who died before they reached the age of 66. The disclosure is based on research done by the whistleblower in the absence of any State-funded investigation into these matters, but it is by no means exhaustive. I believe another number of deaths have been identified since it was published. It is clear that successive Governments have failed in their duty of care to the men and women who served in the Air Corps. This Government has an opportunity to do the right thing. We do not want to be here in ten years’ time with a higher death toll, having failed to address this scandal. Has the Taoiseach read the disclosure? Has he responded to the whistleblower in question? Does he accept that the time has come to order a full inquiry into these matters?

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach & Minister for Defence (Dublin West, Fine Gael)

As the Deputy said, a number of cases are currently before the courts. While I have absolutely no doubt that the serious ill-health suffered by some former members of the Air Corps is real, it has not been proven whether this array of illnesses could be caused by chemical exposure. Obviously, these cases will be heard in the courts, which will hear all the evidence and, on that basis, make a determination on the claim or allegation that all of these illnesses were caused by chemical exposure. I think that is the right way for this to proceed. The health and well-being of men and women of the Air Corps are, of course, matters of huge concern and interest for the Government.

The Minister of State has ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances while working in Baldonnell were independently reviewed. Before considering any further steps, the Minister of State has asked those who made the disclosures for their views. He is examining options for next steps in the process in light of the views he has received from those who made the allegations in the context of ongoing litigation.

The independent report considers the Defence Forces’ health and safety regime and its current policy and application. In respect of historic matters, as litigation had commenced before protected disclosures were made, the report states that the courts are now the most appropriate forum for such matters to be assessed and are the best place to assess all the evidence. Although the report finds that the Defence Forces’ regime appears to be capable of meeting the statutory requirements, it makes a number of observations, including in respect of documentation, health surveillance and exposure monitoring. It also observes that the Health and Safety Authority is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations.

Separately, and in parallel to this independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps has continued to work with the Health and Safety Authority to improve its health and safety regime. It should be noted that there is a significant overlap between the recommendations of the HSA and those of the independent reviewer. The military authorities have informed the Minister of State that the HSA has formally noted the high level of co-operation received from the Air Corps and the considerable progress made to date by the Defence Forces towards the implementation of safety management systems for the control of hazardous substances.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

There is no denying that things are better in the Air Corps. However, what the Taoiseach has just read out does not in any way address the legacy of bad management and a bad health and safety record there. I do not know if the Taoiseach remembers that he is also Minister for Defence. He has a direct responsibility to look into these matters. He is also a medical doctor and will understand the list of illnesses that has been provided to his Minister of State, which includes very serious and often fatal conditions, as the other disclosure indicated. We do not know how many people have been exposed in an unprotected way because nobody has carried out a survey. The Australians did not wait for the courts to adjudicate fully, they acted immediately.

There is a list of chemicals, albeit a partial one, which was given to Deputy Lisa Chambers. How many of the people involved have been exposed? As the Taoiseach is aware, if a doctor does not know what people have been exposed to, he cannot help, diagnose, prescribe or direct medical procedures. This is about saving lives. Will the Taoiseach act now not in respect of the specific cases but on the legacy of all of those who are suffering in the general public?

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach & Minister for Defence (Dublin West, Fine Gael)

The Deputy is absolutely correct; I am Minister for Defence. The Government has delegated responsibility for defence matters to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, whom I fully trust to deal with this issue appropriately.

I am a medical doctor and have seen the list of illnesses that these former members of the Air Corps and their families have suffered. It is a very long and extensive list of illnesses, including the most common illnesses which most people may encounter, namely, cancer, cardiovascular disease, suicide and miscarriages by their partners. As a medical doctor, it is not possible for me to say if exposure to chemicals caused all or any of these illnesses because they are commonplace in the community at large. If it was one specific illness resulting from a known chemical that caused such an illness, that would be one thing. These are not the allegations that are being made, however. There is litigation before the courts, which are best placed to assess the evidence and see whether the allegations are supported by it.

*****

We will follow up the above Dáil debate with a critique of the misleading statements by the Taoiseach, Dr. Leo Varadkar in due course.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Files on chemical exposure in the Irish Air Corps have gone missing

A whistleblower’s warning that documents revealing unacceptable levels of chemical exposure in the Air Corps were deliberately destroyed was sent to the Department of Defence over a year before it looked for the documents — and discovered they are missing.

The Department of Defence only sought to find the documents after their alleged destruction was raised in the Dáil — more than 12 months after it received the whistleblower’s claim.

A protected disclosure sent to the then Minister of Defence Simon Coveney in December 2015 warned that a named senior member of the Air Corps destroyed reports, dating back to the 1990s, which raised concerns about the levels of toxic chemicals in workshops in Casement Aerodrome.

The same official was named in a subsequent disclosure by a second whistleblower who also alleged the documents were destroyed.

The years given by the whistleblower for the destroyed documents match those of inspection reports of Casement Aerodrome that the Department itself admits cannot be found.

When asked previously if there are plans to investigate the documents’ disappearance, junior defence minister Paul Kehoe has told the Dáil that he has been “advised by the military authorities that there are no plans to carry out an investigation into why these reports cannot be located.”

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 16/01/18 – Question on Irish Air Corps usage of PFOS & PFOA disallowed

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin has ever used firefighting foams that contained either of the chemical ingredients PFOS, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid or PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [54318/17]

Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Ceann Comhairle (South Kildare, Fianna Fail)

I regret that I have had to disallow the following question tabled by you.

“To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin has ever used firefighting foams that contained either of the chemical ingredients PFOS, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid or PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [54318/17]”

The question is impinging on the functions of the Courts as per the provisions of Standing Order 59(3) which states: 59(3) a matter shall not be raised in such an overt manner so that it appears to be an attempt by the Dail to encroach on the functions of the Courts or a Judicial Tribunal.

*****

To be very clear there are NO court cases at present pertaining to the use of PFOS or PFOA by the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome. Furthermore there are no Judicial Tribunals yet established into the use and / or misuse of these chemicals by the Irish Air Corps.

Perhaps the minister could answer a straightforward question without hiding behind Standing Order 59 (3)

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 12/12/17 – Department of Finance – State Claims Agency – Irish Air Corps

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 128

To ask the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 129 of 14 November 2017, if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the State Claims Agency commissioned a retrospective report covering 1980 to 2007 to be carried out by the formation safety office Air Corps on much of Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnell, which was issued on 6 February 2014; if the State Claims Agency carried out actions on receipt of the report such as issuing findings to the Minister for Defence, the Health and Safety Authority, the chief of staff of the Defence Forces or Casement Aerodrome authorities; and if it withheld it for future use or not as it saw fit in legal proceedings being pursued against the State. [53000/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The SCA have informed me that in answering question 129 of 14 November 2017 it interpreted the request to relate to its audit programme carried out by its Risk Unit. They have also informed me that in August 2013 on receiving a claim in which it was alleged that personal injuries were caused by exposure to toxic substances in Baldonnel, the SCA emailed Litigation Branch and Claims Administration asking that a Liaison Officer (L.O.) be appointed to assist the SCA‘s investigations. The SCA also requested that the appointed LO prepare a detailed claims report setting out the background and circumstances of the claim. The SCA, although not privy to the decision, understands that the Formation Safety Officer was tasked with this request. The SCA subsequently received a report, in April 2014, titled “Chemical Exposure Report (1994-2005) (plaintiff name) Case” which was the only report furnished by the Defence Forces and related specifically to the period 1994-2005. As the report was requested by and provided to the SCA in the context of a claim, it is legally and professionally privileged, referring as it does to all the circumstances of the plaintiff’s claim. This report was prepared entirely for the conduct of the legal proceedings and its use was confined accordingly.

*****

Further explanation: Almost 2 years before multiple whistle-blowers made protected disclosures to the Minister for Defence and over two years before the Health & Safety Authority investigated appalling Irish AirCorps chemical health & safety, the State Claims Agency were aware (after interviewing serving personnel in 2013/2014) that there were continuing serious chemical health & safety breaches in Baldonnel causing ongoing unprotected exposure & injury to personnel.

Rather than be responsible, save lives and do the right thing by informing the Health & Safety Authority that there were ongoing breaches of health and safety legislation at Baldonnel. This included the lack of provision of chemical training and the lack of provision of PPE (both recommended by Forbairt in 1997). The State Claims Agency callously and indeed negligently decided to sit on the report.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 12/12/17 – Department of Defence – Departmental Reports – Irish Air Corps

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 61

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the chemical exposure report 1994 to 2005 produced in 2014 by a person (details supplied); if a copy of that report was made available to the independent reviewer to allow them carry out a full assessment of the way in which the Air Corps dealt with recent whistle-blowers’ statements; if not, the reason therefor; and if its publication will be authorised. [52875/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I can confirm to the Deputy that my attention has been drawn to the Chemical Exposure Report 1994 to 2005. As I outlined to the Deputy in my reply to Parliamentary Question number 547 of 26 September 2017, the report was undertaken in the context of ongoing legal proceedings. As the report is subject to legal privilege, it was not appropriate to make it available to the independent reviewer. The material used for the purpose of the review by the independent reviewer is listed in an appendix to his report, which is available on my Department’s website.

As the Chemical Exposure Report 1994 to 2005 is subject to legal privilege, it will not be published.

*****

So to paraphrase. An arm of the state withholds an internal legacy health & safety report from a state appointed independent third party investigator, who was appointed to review legacy health & safety of the same arm of the state.

Question : Did Christopher O’Toole know that this document was being withheld and if not why was he not informed. If Christopher O’Toole was informed that this document was being withheld then why did he not state this in his report?

DELAY – DENY – DIE