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

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.

*****

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann – Public Accounts Committee – 08/11/18

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

I will move on to another area regarding the State Claims Agency. It relates to the Air Corps. The Air Corps used to hold information in relation to health and safety. Deputy Ó Snodaigh looked for information and stated it was misplaced. Subsequently, there was a court case. There were some whistleblowers. The State Claims Agency stated that no admission was made that the defendants exposed the plaintiff to dangerous chemicals or solvents, and that is the nub of what it relates to.

The State Claims Agency stated that it could confidently claim that there were no injuries due to any act or omission on its part and yet there was no documentation that could provide that confidence. Subsequently, there was a report, the O’Toole report, which stated that the records to demonstrate health and safety compliance are not readily available.

In such a situation where there is the absence of information, how can the State Claims Agency state it can confidently predict or state something when records were not available?

Mr. Ciarán Breen (State Claims Agency)

I apologise Chairman, I did not realise we were going to examine the general indemnity scheme. Generally, I am vaguely familiar with the particular case. While I do not have the exact facts or recollection of it, I am guessing that the reason we confidently stated what we did was either because of where the person was working or we had come to an independent view informed by the Air Corps around those liability issues. I really cannot put it further than that.

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

Could Mr. Breen follow up with a note on it?

 

Mr. Ciarán Breen (State Claims Agency)

I will certainly. Maybe afterwards, the Deputy might give me the name of the case and I will follow it up.

 

*****

The State Claims Agency were aware from late 2013 / early 2014 that the Health &  Safety failings at Baldonnel were in fact an “ongoing” issue and not just a “legacy” issue and failed to intervene by requesting the services of the HSA to protect Air Corps personnel. It took the actions of whistle-blowers at the end of 2015 before the HSA intervened in 2016 to improve Air Corps Health & Safety. 

The State Claims Agency Risk Management branch had been carrying out “Safety Management Systems” audits of the Irish Air Corps, in selected units and at formation level, for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene to protect personnel from ongoing CMR chemical exposures in 2016.

The NTMA operates a discretionary performance-related payments scheme for eligible employees, which includes staff assigned to the State Claims Agency. The scheme rewards exceptional performance having regard to the employee’s own performance, the performance of the employee’s area of responsibility and the overall performance of the NTMA. Performance-related payments are made in accordance with parameters approved by the Agency’s non-executive Remuneration Committee.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 06/11/18 – Department of Defence Health and Safety

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 124

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he has taken or plans to take on foot of the O’Toole Report which has been sent to the whistle-blowers 12 months ago and feedback received a number of months ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter 45046/18.

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The State Claims Agency is currently managing 7 claims taken by former and current members of the Air Corps for personal injuries alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps.

Three written disclosures were made, in November and December 2015 and January 2016, under the provisions of section 8 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, relating to alleged failings in the Defence Organisation in the area of Health and Safety. Legal advice was sought on how best to progress certain disclosures as elements related to matters which are the subject of the ongoing litigation. I appointed an independent reviewer to examine the disclosures.

Following receipt of the report of the independent reviewer, I invited the views of those who had made the disclosures and published the report. I also sent the report to the Chief of Staff for the views and actions of the military authorities to be set out. In parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps had continued to work with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to improve its health and safety regime. I have been informed by the military authorities that the HSA has formally noted the considerable progress made to-date by the Defence Forces towards implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances. Subject to completion of the improvement plan the HSA investigation is closed. However, it must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.

I am considering the responses I received from the parties and legal advice in the context of ongoing active litigation before deciding on the next steps to be taken….blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 18 men dead since Minister for Defence first notified minister considering report for a year now. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 23/10/18 – Irish Air Corps – University of Limerick

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 166

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of University of Limerick students that had been sent to Baldonnel for work experience. 43321/18

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

My Department facilitated work experience under the University of Limerick student Placement Programme for 3 students per year commencing in 1992 and ending with the 2008/2009 academic year.

*****

  • The 51 UL work experience students who served over 2 decades at Baldonnel shared substandard working conditions with military personnel at Baldonnel.
  • UL work experience students were exposed in an unprotected manner to Trichlorethylene, Trichloroethane, Dichloromethane, Isocyanates, Hexavalent Chromium compounds and MANY more CMR chemical. WITHOUT any PPE. So no basic protection like gloves, no eye protection, no respiratory protection. 
  • UL work experience students were subject to hazing incidents (tubbings) just like their military counterparts.
  • The University of Limerick have so far refused to notify the affected students that they may have been exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals with lifelong consequences.
  • Of the admittedly  small number of UL work experience students we have been able to track down, 2 out of 3 are suffering life changing illnesses consistent with illnesses suffered by their similarly exposed military colleagues.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 07/09/18 – Department of Defence

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 33

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if there are restrictions on military leave for the week commencing 18 September 2018; the barracks and number affected; the reasons for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 36676/18

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The day-to-day operational management of Defence Forces personnel is a matter, in the first instance, for the appropriate military authorities. The Defence Forces operates on a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year basis and this means that, on occasion, military leave has to be restricted for operational reasons.

The approval of annual leave is a matter for the military authorities in line with the operational requirements of the Defence Forces.

The Ministerial Review of the 58th Infantry Group who are due to deploy to UNDOF the following week will be held on the 19th September.

The Air Corp’s Annual General Officer Commanding inspection will take place on 21 September 2018 and some units will hold Unit Inspections on 17 and 18 September 2018.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 12/07/18 – Department of Defence – Departmental Legal Costs

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 66

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the estimated costs of defending litigation on Lariam and Air Corps toxic chemical exposure in each year over the past ten years, excluding settlements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32063/18]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The State Claims Agency manages and provides legal representation in relation to personal injury claims taken against the Minister including claims in respect of current or former members of the Defence Forces in relation to alleged personal injuries that are referred to in the Deputy’s question.

The Department reimburses the State Claims Agency in respect of any external legal costs. This Department does not hold details of the breakdown of the legal costs incurred in respect of the different categories of personal injuries claims managed by the State Claims Agency on behalf of my Department.

*****

  • The state claims agency were aware from 2013/2014 that the Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure problem was still a LIVE issue and not just a LEGACY issue. They had an opportunity at this time to inform the HSA and to start to have the ongoing exposure problems rectified but they chose not to do so.
  • The state claims agency are therefore directly responsible for personnel enduring a further 2 years (approx) of unprotected exposure.
  • The State Claims Agency are in charge of their own cover up and have unlimited taxpayer funds to carry out this task.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 10/05/18 – State Claims Agency – Irish Air Corps

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 7

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Chemical Exposure Report 1994-2005 will be released in order to provide former members of the Air Corps who are now chronically ill with information relating to the level of exposure they suffered in view of his recent call for candour and transparency in cases regarding the health of persons; and if he will make a statement on the

This relates to a matter that has been ongoing for a while. Given the current controversy around the checks for cervical cancer, there is a need for transparency in publishing reports that will help people suffering health consequences so they can manage future health needs.

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The Deputy will be aware that the State Claims Agency is currently managing seven claims taken against the Minister for Defence for personal injuries alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substance while working in the Air Corps in the period 1991 to 2006. The management of such claims lodged against the Minister for Defence is delegated to the State Claims Agency. As I outlined to the Deputy in my replies to his parliamentary questions on 26 September 2017 and 12 December 2017, the report referenced was undertaken in the context of legal proceedings. As the report was requested by and provided to the State Claims Agency in the context of a claim, it is legally and professionally privileged. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to release it.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

The Minister of State has previously stated, and he has done so now again, that it is not appropriate to publish the report. This is even when an independent reviewer was looking at the whistleblower’s claims. The Minister of State did not even supply him with the report in question, the Chemical Exposure Report 1994-2005. This is potentially catastrophic for some of those making claims and also for some who are not making claims. Not everybody exposed to chemicals in that period is making a claim against the State but they are seeking information on what they were exposed to and what damage it could do to their health.

The State Claims Agency, which is involved with the current scandal in the media, has fought these men tooth and nail. It has fought to the level of the High Court the production of a list of chemicals used in Baldonnel in that period. That list alone could save lives. Given the current debacle with cervical smear tests, I ask the Minister of State to think again about the withholding of information that can affect people’s lives and future health. This is wrong and it should be stopped.

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The Deputy is trying to link two very distinct matters. The allegations referred to by the Deputy are historic and this is further complicated as causation has not been established as of yet. I have been very proactive in this matter. When the protected disclosures were submitted to the Department of Defence – there were two in 2015 and one in 2016 – I was briefed on the matter in June 2016. I set up an independent inquiry and met some of the people who made the disclosures. I received the report and I got the views of the people who made the protected disclosures. I sent the report for legal advice and I received that in the past number of days. Before making any further decision on the course of action, a number of legal issues must be finalised. I expect that following the report I will act as soon as possible.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

We visited the Baldonnel aerodrome recently and I can see the huge progress in comparison with photographs I have seen of workshops in the past. Why is the default position of the State always to close ranks and withhold information? The longer one withholds information, the worse some of the health complications could get. Whether they are related to exposure is up to medics, but they cannot find this out if the information is not there and they cannot do the required checks for the chemicals to which I have been told that people have been exposed. Major dangers and cancers can result from those and I appeal to the Minister of State to ask the State Claims Agency to look properly and more openly at this and not to fight it tooth and nail. There is an urgency involved given that we are talking about the lives of men and women being at risk.

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The health and well-being of any member of the Defence Forces is a priority of mine and of military management. I am glad the Deputy recognises the progress in the Air Corps at Baldonnel. It is one of the reasons I instructed the General Officer Commanding, Sean Clancy, to host a visit for Members of the Oireachtas committee so they could see for themselves the progress out there.

I am also reassured current practices have been subject to Health and Safety Authority oversight. There has been considerable progress and subject to completion of an improved plan, it will close its investigation. I am considering the findings of the investigation report that I got and I will make a decision on this. I understand where the Deputy is coming from but I have a duty as well. The Deputy is trying to link two very distinct and different matters in cervical cancer and the issue we are discussing now.

*****

  • The Taoiseach, the Minister for Defence, the Irish Air Corps and the State Claims Agency are all in possession of lists of chemicals that personnel were exposed transdermally & via inhalation without protection (PPE) and via ingestion due to a lack of PPE, adequate washing facilities or chemical handling training.
  • In many cases personnel were exposed via inhalation without their knowledge because their working environment was contaminated.
  • Knowing the exposure information can help save lives as it can help doctors provide correct diagnosis and appropriate targeted healthcare.
  • The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister Paul Kehoe, the State Claims Agency and the Irish Air Corps would sooner let serving & former personnel die without correct treatment rather than tell them exactly what the were exposed to.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

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