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

Whistleblower feels ‘left out on a limb’ by minister

An Air Corps whistleblower, leaving the Defence Forces, feels “left out on a limb” by the minister to whom he appealed for help, the Dáil has heard.

Last month, the Irish Examiner revealed that the serving member wrote to the Defence Forces chief of staff to inform him of a decision to retire early over what was claimed was the authority’s failure to protect him from persecution as a result of concerns he had raised.

Last November, the whistleblower wrote to Paul Kehoe, the junior defence minister, complaining of the “unwarranted treatment” he had received after submitting a protected disclosure on health and safety issues.

The whistleblower is one of a number who has raised concerns over Air Corps staff exposure to cancer-causing chemicals while servicing and maintaining aircraft. The State is fighting seven personal injury cases being taken by former Air Corps members suffering chronic illnesses they say were caused by exposure suffered during their service.

The whistleblower’s early retirement was raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley, who asked Mr Kehoe what action, if any, he had taken on receiving correspondence from the member last November.

Mr Buckley said: “No action was taken on foot of a letter dated 28 November 2018 appealing for the Minister of State’s intervention and asking what protection he was giving to this serving member at the time. What actions were taken on foot of the original protected disclosure?

Mr Kehoe said he would leave the matter in the hands of the Ombudsman. “I will not stand over anybody being wronged. I encourage the person to whom the deputy is referring to go to the Defence Forces Ombudsman. He or she may have done so but I assure the deputy the case will be dealt with in an independent and fair way. The ombudsman provides that facility in an independent way.”

Unfortunately, this person has left the service because of the way he has been treated. He believes he has been let down. He has served his country with distinction. He thought he was doing the right thing by disclosing what was going on but he is now in a position where he cannot keep his job which will affect him in many other ways.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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The last thing Minister Kehoe wants is more whistle-blowers feeling it is safe to make further protected disclosures about wrongdoing at the Irish Air Corps. By “passing the buck” Minister Kehoe’s non intervention is allowing the ongoing victimisation of of Air Corps personnel.

Said ombudsman will probably be invited to visit Baldonnel and then wined & dined in the Officers Mess by the perpertrators of the greatest workplace health & safety tragedy in modern Irish history.

That is of course unless he hasn’t been invited already.

Delay – Deny – Die

Case over chemical exposure at Casement dismissed

A case taken against the State by a former maintenance worker who claims his illnesses were caused by his exposure to chemicals while in the Air Corps has been dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.

The case saw legal representatives acting on behalf of former Air Corps member Ian Coughlan at odds with the State as to when Mr Coughlan was first aware that his medical complaints may have been connected to his exposure to chemicals in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

Mr Coughlan has suffered or continues to experience skin rashes, sleep disturbance, fatigue, mood changes, occasional bloody diarrhoea, skin and eye discolouration, and short-term memory loss. He began proceedings against the State in 2013.

His personal injury summons against the State alleged 24 instances of negligence and breach of duty. He alleged the Air Corps failed to provide him with a safe system of work, appropriate training for the safe handling of the chemicals he was required to work with, and that proper safety measures to protect him from the ill-effects of the chemicals were not implemented.

Mr Coughlan brought his legal challenge within months of receiving the opinion of toxicopathologist professor Vyvyan Howard, who said he believed his ongoing medical complaints were as a direct result of his exposure to chemicals while working in Casement Aerodrome.

However, the State argued Mr Coughlan’s claim was statute barred as he was aware of a potential connection more than two years before he commenced legal action. It said discussions in medical examinations around Mr Coughlan’s handling of chemicals while he was serving in the Air Corps meant he possessed the requisite knowledge to bring a case between 2007 and 2009 — at least four years before he began legal action.

However, in a sworn affidavit, Mr Coughlan said at no time during that period was he advised his symptoms and illnesses were related to his working environment.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Despite Mr. Coughlan having no evidence to bring a case against the state until 2013, Mr Justice Meenan said Mr Coughlan should have brought the case against the State by 2011 at the latest.

Delay – Deny – Die