Probe into Air Corps allegations urged

The Air Corps’ failure to protect workers from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals may have affected thousands of people, causing 100 deaths as well as birth defects and miscarriages, the Dáil heard yesterday.

The claim, previously made in a protected disclosure to the Department of Defence, was aired as opposition politicians increased the pressure on the Government to commission an investigation into working conditions at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnell.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin criticised the Government’s efforts to have whistle-blowers’ claims of health and safety mismanagement adequately investigated after the details of an independent report were reported by the Irish Examiner.

Christopher O’Toole, an independent third-party appointed to review the claims, reported that the kind of probe envisaged by the terms of reference he was given by the Department of Defence was “impractical”, given his own lack of expertise in chemical science and medicine.

However, Mr O’Toole did report that appropriate records that demonstrate the Air Corps complied with health and safety standards “are not readily available”.

Putting questions to junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe in the Dáil yesterday, Sinn Féin Defence spokesman Aengus O’Snodaigh outlined the litany of allegations against the Air Corps, noting claims of “clusters of highly complicated medical conditions, miscarriages, and birth defects among those who worked in those conditions”.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Delay – Deny – Die

Report of Independent Reviewer – Protected Disclosures – Air Corps

Terms of Reference

The review shall encompass a review of all relevant documents held by the  Department and the Defence Forces, any additional material as may be supplied or received by the Reviewer, and interviews of such persons as considered appropriate by the Reviewer.

The Reviewer will:

  1. Review the allegations as detailed in the written correspondence to the Minister and determine if –
    • In the period covered by the disclosure, did the Air Corps comply with relevant Health and Safety standards with regard to the safe use of toxic chemicals and if not what action has been taken in the intervening period to ensure compliance.
  2. In relation the disclosure, provide considered views and observations in relation to the allegations set out.
  3. Provide such other considered views and observations as are considered necessary.

The Reviewer shall be provided with access to all available documentation relevant to the events and any other documentation requested by the Reviewer.

The Reviewer shall be provided with the names of all relevant persons, including serving or retired members of the Defence Forces, or other persons the Reviewer considers appropriate. The Reviewer shall endeavour to interview or take statements from all relevant persons.

The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces shall each appoint a liaison officer to provide the necessary information required in order to conduct the review and to assist the Reviewer in identifying the relevant persons to be interviewed.

The review shall be submitted to the Minister with Responsibility for Defence by the Reviewer.

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Please click on the link below to open the report on the Department of Defence website.

Call for Commission of Investigation into Air Corps claims

The Government is facing calls to establish a Commission of Investigation into whistleblower claims against the Air Corps, after the terms of an independent report into the allegations were branded ‘farcical’ by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

The Air Corps stands accused of failing to protect its technicians from the effects of cancer-causing chemicals, with whistleblowers claiming that decades of neglect has had a devastating effect on the health of members of the Defence Forces.

Yesterday, the Irish Examiner revealed that Christopher O’Toole, the author of an independent review of the allegations, said the terms of reference he was given for this probe were “impractical”, and that elements of the allegations made were issues outside his expertise.

Mr O’Toole also found that records demonstrating the Air Corps’ compliance with health and safety regulations “are not readily available”.

Whistleblowers had previously alleged that inspection records dating back to the 1990s were deliberately destroyed because they had raised concerns, but both the Government and the Defence Forces deny the claim, and say the reports in question were mislaid over time.

Mr Martin said he believes a Commission of Investigation is necessary: “The situation is far from satisfactory because with his opening comments the report’s author is essentially saying he cannot fulfill the terms of reference. From the Government’s point of view they established this review, they must have known the terms of reference could not be fulfilled. It’s farcical.”

“It seems to me there are no records of compliance with health regulations, which is very, very serious because in their absence one has to conclude that the probability is they were not complied with.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Delay – Deny – Die

Casement Aerodrome inquiry: Key review is a botched job

It happens in the best of homes; stuff — invoices, receipts, notes, cards and letters put by because one day they might be needed — gets lost, inadvertently destroyed or just misplaced. It’s part of the rich and familiar tapestry of domestic life. It should not happen in public organisations and authorities that spend large sums of taxpayers’ money on filing and recording systems and on the people who are supposed to run them.

But that appears to be only one of the serious issues highlighted today in our report on the independent review of claims by former Air Corps staff who say their exposure to toxic chemicals from the late 1980s to the early 2000s caused chronic illnesses. Another seems to be that the review — established by the Defence department — was itself not fit for purpose.

The review — by a retired civil servant — was charged with examining the allegations made by Air Corps workers whose claim was that the State failed to give them adequate training and protection … a fairly straightforward mission, then. No, not at all; it has been a waste of time, and for that no fault at all attaches to the retired civil servant, Christopher O’Toole. His only error, perhaps, was to accept the toxic commission at the outset.

Those are, sadly, very general terms because, as he goes on to explain, “a problem has arisen in relation to the issues raised by the informants because appropriate records to demonstrate compliance are not readily available … In the absence of such records, proof of compliance is problematic and establishing the actual situation at the time in question would be a complex task requiring the gathering of evidence and probably taking oral testimony; in effect a forensic exercise which it is not possible for me to carry out.”

The review tells those most affected — and that could be a great many Air Corps employees — and the wider public nothing about the facts at the heart of this case, leaving us still with questions about the “appropriate records” that are not available. What is necessary now is a second review, led by an independent chemicals expert — perhaps from Scotland or Wales — who can establish once and for all what happened, or didn’t happen, at Casement Aerodrome.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Delay – Deny – Die

Air Corps official denies file destruction

An Air Corps official has denied whistleblowers’ allegations that he destroyed documents central to a legal action against the State.

Six former Air Corps technicians are suing the State, alleging inadequate health and safety management of the cancer-causing chemicals they used, and that their unnecessary exposure to these substances has caused them to suffer chronic illnesses including cancer.

The State has denied this.

Health and safety reports on conditions at the time in the Air Corps headquarters at Casement Aerodrome are missing, with the Defence Forces speculating that these documents were misplaced over time.
Two whistleblowers have alleged that an Air Corps official ordered the destruction of the documents, with one of the whistleblowers naming the official in question in a protected disclosure to Paul Kehoe, the junior defence minister.

Mr Kehoe this week revealed that the named official has denied the claim.

Read full article on The Journal website below…

‘We need to be vindicated. Friends are dead or dying’ : Air Corps report due this week

IRISH AIR CORPS whistleblowers say they hope an independent report due to be published this week will corroborate their claims that safety procedures around chemicals at Baldonnel Airfield put them at risk.

In the last 12 months, at least six former members of the Defence Forces have started legal proceedings against the State, alleging that they were exposed to toxic levels of chemicals and that a lack of protective equipment has left them with lifelong illnesses.

In January of this year, Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe ordered that an independent investigation be conducted by former Attorney General senior official Christopher O’Toole. The complainants have been told this crucial report will be released this week.

Read full article on The Journal website below…

Disclosure review for Air Corps staff

Defence Forces whistle-blowers who raised concerns about Air Corps staff exposure to carcinogenic chemicals are to receive the review of their disclosures this week.

The Crucifixion

Last January, the Irish Examiner revealed how whistleblowers raised the health and safety issues with Cabinet members, and that the protected disclosures came years after six former Air Corps staff had brought legal action against the State, over the chronic illnesses they suffer.

The six claim their illnesses, including cancer and neurological issues, are as a result of their working environment. Four separate whistleblowers have made disclosures relating to current health and safety issues at Air Corps headquarters at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Co Dublin.

Despite the first protected disclosure coming in December 2015, a third party was not appointed to review the whistleblowers’ claims until September of last year.

A month later, the health and safety watchdog published the findings of its own investigations into conditions at Casement Aerodrome. The Health and Safety Authority threatened the Air Corps with legal action, unless it addressed concerns it raised following a series of inspections — a number of issues that mirrored the warnings of the whistleblowers.

Read full article on the Irish Examiner website below…

Defence admit another 12 sites “contaminated by toxic chemicals”

The Australian Defence Force has admitted its problem with toxic chemicals leaking from its bases is much bigger than first thought.

Another 12 ADF sites have been added to the original six investigated, causing more worry for the personnel who work there as well as the locals living nearby.

Defence Force widow Kristen Russell remembers the moment her partner Greg Lukes was diagnosed with kidney cancer at just 33 years old. Two years later, the father of two young children was dead.

“He was one of those people that went to the gym everyday, ate all the right things, never smoked, never drank. It was a shock that somebody like him could get that type of cancer,” Mrs Russell told 7 News.

Petty Officer Lukes served at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, working on Sea King helicopters. The ADF believes exposure to a number of chemicals related to the choppers was the likely cause of his deadly disease.

There is now further concern about chemicals known as preflourinated compounds used in firefighting foams at that base, among many others.

Petty Officer Luke’s widow has called on the ADF to “release the truth. If it’s happened, it’s happened. Let’s get it out there and move forward,” she said.

The ADF has already launched detailed investigations into six sites including HMAS Albatross.

On Tuesday it released a report revealing chemicals were found in the soil or ground water at another 12 bases. The sites include three in NSW, two in Queensland, two in Victoria, one in Western Australia and three in the NT. Lawyers are already preparing for class actions.

Read read article & watch related video by following link below.

‘Coincidences’ hinder Air Corps whistleblowers’ case

A number of whistleblowers allege that a health and safety failure on the part of the Air Corps has caused their chronic illnesses. Joe Leogue looks at their case and how, just as with Garda Maurice McCabe, ‘coincidence after coincidence after coincidence’ has emerged to undermine their position.

“THERE are those who may say that this litany of grave errors can’t just simply be coincidence after coincidence after coincidence that is being suggested,” the senior counsel said.

The line was a standout contribution in a tribunal that made headlines in every news outlet this summer.

Senior counsel Pat Marrinan was talking about Garda Whistleblower Maurice McCabe — and how every one of a number of apparent ‘coincidences’ in his case worked to his detriment.

However, the line also resonated with whistleblowers involved in a different dispute.

A dispute that has found some at odds with the State. An ongoing scandal that has seen allegations of a cover-up, the alleged intimidation of those speaking out against the Defence Forces, and one that can be boiled down to one question: Are a number of men who served the State now seriously ill because of the Defence Forces’ failure to protect them from the effects of harmful chemicals?

Those speaking out do not believe the various occurrences — revealed in a series of articles in this newspaper since January — can be
coincidental.

The ongoing issue relating to chemical exposure in the Air Corps concerns two separate, yet related problems for the Defence Forces — the first of which was raised in 2013.

Back then, the first of a number of lawsuits against the State was filed in the High Court in which it was alleged that there were historic failures to protect technicians from the effects of the chemicals they used.

The second problem was revealed in November 2015, when the first of four whistleblowers within the Air Corps made protected disclosures to the then-defence minister Simon Coveney.

These men warned that the Air Corps was not doing enough to protect currently serving technicians from the harmful effects of the chemicals with which they clean and service the aircraft.

Their warnings would be vindicated following an independent investigation last year.

And yet the red flags should have been raised as far back as 2013, when the first of the lawsuits came — allegations that would be echoed years later by the protected disclosures.

Read more on the Irish Examiner below…

Air Corps official denies documents destroyed

An Air Corps official has rejected claims that inspection reports at the centre of legal cases against the State were deliberately destroyed, describing the allegations as malicious, writes Joe Leogue.

Air Corps tail wags ministerial dog.

The rebuke of the claims is contained in a series of emails between the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence, which has been seen by the Irish Examiner.

The State faces legal action from several former Air Corps technicians who claim the Defence Forces failed to adequately protect them from the harmful effects of the toxic chemicals they used on a daily basis.

Four whistleblowers have made protected disclosures on health and safety issues within the Air Corps — with two alleging that inspection reports show the Defence Forces were aware of safety shortcomings in the 1990s were deliberately destroyed as part of a cover-up.

However, Comdt Mark Donnelly, the Air Corps formation safety adviser, rejected these claims, and said the missing reports were “misplaced with the passage of time”.

“AC Formation and former Formation safety personnel have already commented on their concerns regarding these allegations,” Comdt Donnelly wrote in an email on March 8.

“These allegations of deliberate destruction of such documents are completely unfounded. It is my opinion that these comments are intended to be inflammatory, vexatious and malicious.”

Read more in the Irish Examiner