Dáil Éireann – Priority Question 28 – July 11th 2017

To the Taoiseach & Minister for Defence.

28. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when he received the report reviewing claims made by Air Corps whistle-blowers; when it will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Lisa Chambers. [32775/17]

Air Corps accuser facing dismissal in August; Whistleblower disclosed use of hazardous chemicals at aerodrome

A serving Air Corps whistle-blower is facing dismissal from the Defence Forces next month, due to an “industrial dispute”.

“Good News”  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar cares more about socks than service personnel.

The Irish Examiner can reveal that the man, who made protected disclosures about health and safety management of hazardous chemicals at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, has been summoned to appear before a Defence Forces medical board in August.

A brief report, issued prior to the board meeting, has accused the member of “chronic ineffectivity” due to anxiety and a “work-related industrial dispute”.

The Protected Disclosures Act was introduced in 2014 to protect whistle-blowers from being penalised for reporting issues in their workplace.

This newspaper can also reveal that the man previously met with junior defence minister Paul Kehoe in Government Buildings, to discuss his concerns.

The man told Mr Kehoe that an Air Corps official ordered the shredding of health and safety inspection reports dating back to the 1990s. He is the second whistleblower to make such an allegation.

The claim was also made in a written disclosure submitted by a different whistleblower, in April — a statement that further named the official alleged to have ordered the reports’ destruction.

However, Mr Kehoe has ruled out any investigation into the documents’ disappearance, despite previously admitting that he could only offer “speculative” reasons as to why they cannot be found.

Six former Air Corps staff are suing the State, claiming their chronic illnesses are as a result of their exposure to toxic chemicals used in the course of their duties.

Opposition TDs say they have seen copies of the 1990s inspection reports, and the reports are said to show that it was long-known that the conditions at Casement Aerodrome were not up to standard.

This has prompted claims that the Defence Forces’ copies of the documents were deliberately destroyed to cover up knowledge of workers’ exposure to harmful substances.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Why did Irish Air Corps hang Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney out to dry?

The Irish Examiner publisher a story this morning about a meeting that Micheál Martin & Lisa Chambers, of Fianna Fail, had with survivors of the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical scandal.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he will raise the request in the Dáil, and said the Government’s response to the scandal has been “deficient” to date.

Mr Martin’s stance follows a recent meeting he and his party defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers held with a number of former Air Corps staff.

The group, all in their 40’s and 50’s, listed the litany of illnesses they have suffered since leaving the Air Corps, including rectal cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, depression and anxieties, solvent-induced encephalopathy, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — even among non-smokers.

“All suffer significant health issues,” Mr Martin said, describing the encounter as a “sad and often difficult” meeting.

“One has undergone five surgeries and is in constant pain. They all have personal issues. One has had two heart attacks and in one instance was kept alive by his wife and a first responder,” said Mr Martin.

“All were exposed to chemicals, and in at least one case, the person was ‘tubbed’ — sat in a bath and doused in chemicals which was a ritual at the time,” he said.

“I was taken aback at some of what they had to say, particularly about not having protective clothing.

“One told me that subsequent to his time at the Air Corps, he went into private industry and couldn’t get over the contrast in terms of the attitude and directions for handling chemical spills and use of protective suits. The contrast was striking.”

Read more about Fianna Fail calls for an inquiry into the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical scandal on the Examiner website.

Read the Irish Times article about Coveney

Read The Journal article with Varadkar defending Coveney (lots of views, lots of comments…popular subject).

But hours later the Irish Times ran with an article, based upon FoI requests that Simon Coveney as Minister for Defence had questioned the professional judgement of an Irish Air Corps pilot who cancelled a ministerial flight due to a forecast of fog at their Cork destination.

Anyone familiar with the media will know that journalists will seek an FoI, not on the off chance of discovering something, but because they have been already briefed that something exists. The journalists are rarely taking a stab in the dark, they are following a scent. It also appears that the Irish  Times may be in possession of this information for a number of weeks if not months (the incident took place in June 2015) so the question must be asked why was it not released previously.

It is significant that the Irish Air Corps have recently had a change of management at the top of the organisation with a new General Officer Commanding and a new Colonel. By all accounts this new GOC is a smart operator and is very politically aware.

So we wonder if it is possible that the Irish Times, who have mostly ignored the toxic chemical scandal, were primed with this story about Coveney? Like we said a relatively minor story about a Minister unhappy his ministerial flight was cancelled but a story that would be a hot news topic and would displace other stories of the day.

Who had the most to gain from a story that diverted attention away from the Irish Air Corps Health & Safety scandal and towards a government minister?

Big bad Fine Gael Minister bullying Air Corps pilot…BOOO. Poor Air Corps turned into an innocent victim……HURRAH…..What chemical problem???

We would hope this is not the opening salvo in the propaganda fightback by the new GOC Air Corps and his management team. We hope it was not designed to keep the Irish Air Corps chemical scandal out of the headlines nor to mark the cards of Fine Gael and all serving Ministers that the Air Corps may have dirt on them.

Now that Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe is in possession of the long awaited report from the “independent 3rd party” investigator, we sincerely hope that the Irish Army Air Corps is not trying to influence & interfere with the democratic process.

Pressure for health study of Air Corps workers

The Government is facing pressure to commission a wide-ranging health study on former Air Corps staff to establish if their working conditions contributed to significant ill-health in some members.

The call for a health study, similar to one established in Australia to examine the correlation between illnesses in its air force and their members’ use of chemicals, comes following months of revelations in the Irish Examiner.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he will raise the request in the Dáil, and said the Government’s response to the scandal has been “deficient” to date.

Mr Martin’s stance follows a recent meeting he and his party defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers held with a number of former Air Corps staff.

The group, all in their 40s and 50s, listed the litany of illnesses they have suffered since leaving the Air Corps, including rectal cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, depression and anxieties, solvent-induced encephalopathy, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — even among non-smokers.

“All suffer significant health issues,” Mr Martin said, describing the encounter as a “sad and often difficult” meeting.

“One has undergone five surgeries and is in constant pain. They all have personal issues. One has had two heart attacks and in one instance was kept alive by his wife and a first responder,” said Mr Martin.

“All were exposed to chemicals, and in at least one case, the person was ‘tubbed’ — sat in a bath and doused in chemicals which was a ritual at the time,” he said.

“I was taken aback at some of what they had to say, particularly about not having protective clothing.

“One told me that subsequent to his time at the Air Corps, he went into private industry and couldn’t get over the contrast in terms of the attitude and directions for handling chemical spills and use of protective suits. The contrast was striking.”

Read more on the Irish Examiner website


Despite the Ardrox 666 (Dichloromethane, Cresylic Acid & Sodium Chromate) dripping down the wall from the extractor fan and Ardrox 1074 (containing Hydrofluoric Acid) dissolving the small barrel in the photo above, the State Claims Agency & Air Corps still maintain we “were not exposed to toxic chemicals”.

The Air Corps have also appealed a high court judgement, directing them to tell survivors the list of chemicals to which they were exposed, to the Court of Appeal.

Calls for probe into Defence Forces inspection records

The Government is coming under increased pressure to launch an investigation into missing Defence Forces inspection reports which were allegedly destroyed.

he calls for an independent probe follow reports in the Irish Examiner which revealed that junior defence minister Paul Kehoe has ruled out any investigation into the disappearance of health and safety reports from the air corps, despite being told by a whistle-blower the documents were deliberately shredded.

The State is being sued by six former air corps members who claim their chronic illnesses were caused by their exposure to toxic chemicals while working as technicians in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnell.

The missing safety reports date back to the 1990s when all six allegedly injured air corps members worked in Baldonnel.

Despite both the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence saying the reports cannot be found, opposition politicians claim to have had sight of the documents and say that they raise concerns as to the management of the working environment in Casement Aerodrome.

Yesterday, this newspaper revealed that, in April, Mr Kehoe received a protected disclosure alleging that a named official ordered the shredding of the documents.

Despite this, Mr Kehoe last week told Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh that he could only offer “speculative” reasons as to why the reports are missing and ruled out an inquiry into their disappearance.

Responding to this newspaper’s report yesterday, Fianna Fáil defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said allegations the reports were deliberately destroyed in order to cover up knowledge of health and safety concerns were “extremely serious”.

“The suggestion from the minister that the reports in question, which are from different inspection periods and from different reporting years, have vanished and that this is somehow due to change over to an electronic system or documents were misplaced over time is difficult to believe,” she said.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Irish Army Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure – Survivors List of Demands

The priorities of the Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors is 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.

We urge that all responsible organisations in the state such as political parties, government departments and the Defence Forces to work together to commit the state to provide the following for survivors as an ex. gratia scheme with no admission of liability by the state.

Current & future legal cases should be allowed to take their natural course unhindered whilst all survivors are cared for equally by the state.

Read more about our demands below.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 29/03/17 – Irish Army Air Corps – Workplace Chemical Exposure Review

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will establish a review to determine if the chronic illnesses suffered by former Air Corps staff were as a result of exposure to chemicals while working at Casement Aerodrome. [15412/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

As I indicated in my responses to other recent Parliamentary Questions on this issue, a number of former and serving Air Corps personnel are suing the Minister for Defence alleging personal injuries arising from exposure to workplace chemicals. It is not appropriate for me to comment on this matter at this time as these cases are the subject of ongoing civil litigation before the High Court.

The Deputy will be aware that there are a number of processes already in train in relation to reviewing health and safety procedures in the Air Corps. Following a number of inspections at the Air Corps premises at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, in 2016, the Health and Safety Authority issued a report of inspection with a number of general improvements and recommendations for follow up. The Air Corps committed to addressing these recommendations as part of an eight phase implementation plan. I am advised that seven out of the eight phases are planned to be completed by May 2017.

In September 2016 I appointed an independent third party to review allegations made in a number of protected disclosures relating to health and safety issues in the Air Corps which were received in late 2015 and early 2016. Once a final review is to hand, I will determine any further steps required and ensure that all recommendations, whether arising from the work of the Health and Safety Authority or the ongoing protected disclosure review, will be acted upon to ensure the safety of the men and women of the Air Corps.

In the circumstances and pending the completion of the ongoing processes, I have no plans at this time to commission another review on this matter.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 21/03/17 – Irish Army Air Corps – Contaminated Clothing

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if technical personnel in the Army and Air Corps are permitted to bring home issue overalls and other uniform clothing that have been potentially contaminated with toxic chemicals; and if he and or the Defence Forces have considered the possible contamination risk that poses whereby these items of work clothing may come into contact with items in the home. [13272/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I am informed by the Military Authorities that disposable coveralls are provided to personnel if an activity involves risk of contamination from toxic chemicals. I am advised that these coveralls are disposed of, immediately after use, using a chemical waste contract.

I am also informed that the Defence Forces policy on personal protective equipment (PPE) states that “personnel shall be provided with the necessary training and information on the use of the PPE.” The policy makes it clear that personnel must use the personal protective equipment correctly and whenever it is required, they must participate in any training or instruction provided on the fitting, use and inspection of personal protective equipment and they must look after it and store it in a safe location.

No probe of Irish Army Air Corps chemical exposure

The Government says it has no plans to establish a review to determine if the chronic illnesses suffered by former Air Corps staff were as a result of exposure to chemicals while working at Casement Aerodrome.

This is despite similar studies and investigations in Australia and the Netherlands.

The State is currently facing six legal actions from former Air Corps staff, who claim their chronic illnesses were caused by their working conditions at the military airfield in south-west Dublin.

Meanwhile, an official has been appointed to investigate claims by three whistleblowers, who made a number of allegations around the current health and safety measures within the Air Corps.

Last October, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) issued a report calling on the Air Corps to implement a number of improvements on the management of staff exposure to hazardous chemicals.

However, responding to a question from Sinn Féin defence spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh, junior defence minister Paul Kehoe said the Government did not intend to commission any specific study to investigate whether working conditions at Casement Aerodrome had an adverse effect on workers’ health.

“There are a number of processes already in train relating to reviewing health-and-safety procedures in the Air Corps,” said Mr Kehoe of the review of the whistleblowers’ claims and the Defence Forces’ response to the HSA report.

“In the circumstances and pending the completion of the ongoing processes, I have no plans to commission another review on this matter.”

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Irish Air Corps hazard reports may have been “destroyed”

Health and safety reports dating back over 20 years that raised concerns over working conditions within the Air Corps may have been destroyed, the Taoiseach has been warned.

In a letter to the Taoiseach last week, Fianna Fáil defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said: “It appears that health and safety concerns were known at the base for some time and there was a failure to act which may have unnecessarily and negatively impacted on the health of those working and serving at the base.”

Last month, the Irish Examiner revealed the details of a damning report in which the Health and Safety Authority threatened legal action against the Air Corps unless it implemented a number of improvements in its management of workers’ exposure to cancer-causing chemicals.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website.