An open letter to Deputy Cathal Berry TD asking why he did not respond to requests for assistance seeking medical help for injured Irish Air Corps chemical exposure survivors?

10th January 2021

Dear Deputy Berry,

Exactly six months ago on the 10th of June 2020, I  wrote a registered letter to you asking for your assistance obtaining medical interventions for chronically ill Irish Air Corps personnel in an effort to reduce unnecessary suffering & untimely deaths.

I am disappointed that after six months I have had absolutely no response or follow up to this letter, not even an basic acknowledgement of receipt.

As a former Defence Forces officer and as a medical doctor I hoped that you were best placed to both understand & champion in the Oireachtas the best interests of those suffering a multitude of health effects from decades of unprotected toxic chemical exposure in what HSA inspectors told me was “the worst case of chemical misuse in the history of the state”.

As I have not heard from you I can only assume that I was wrong and that you either simply do not believe there are any health problems suffered by serving & former Air Corps personnel due workplace chemical exposure, or worse still, you acknowledge personnel have been injured but have no interest in helping them.

I would be grateful if you could please reply publicly to this open letter and while doing so could please answer the following.

  1. Do you believe Irish Air Corps survivors when they tell you that the Health & Safety Authority found serious non compliance with the Safety, Health & Welfare At Work Act 2005 in relation to basic chemical health & safety at Casement Aerodrome and that the same HSA threatened prosecution if their “advice” was not complied with?
  2. Do you accept that the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 were enacted by the state to protect workers from injuries and if an organisation failed to implement these same Acts for decades after they were enacted then the likelihood of injury to personnel is increased?
  3. If you do accept that the Irish Air Corps was not in compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 and if you do accept that health and safety legislation is enacted to protect workers can you please explain why you have done nothing publically to raise awareness of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy since you were elected to Dáil Eireann almost 1 year ago and why you have not mentioned it even once in your numerous chamber utterances or press releases.

I look forward to your response, if any.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Tobin
Spokesperson
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors

Please find linked below a copy of my original letter to you and also a copy of the Health & Safety letter to the Air Corps dated October 2016 outlining urgent steps to be taken  threatening legal action if they are ignored. The HSA letter was obtained under FOI.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 08/12/20 – How many Whistle-blowers is the Irish Air Corps currently trying to sack using medical boards?

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 313

To ask the Minister for Defence the number of whistle-blowers the Defence Forces is currently attempting to dismiss using medical boarding procedures; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
[41233/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The term “whistle-blower” is often used to describe a person who discloses relevant information in relation to relevant wrongdoings, as set out in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. A person whose information satisfies the criteria set out in the Act also has the benefit of the protections set out in the Act such as protection of identity and protection against penalisation.

Subject to exceptions, a person to whom a protected disclosure is made, and any person to whom a protected disclosure is referred in the performance of that person’s duties, shall not disclose to another person any information that might identify the person by whom the protected disclosure was made.

The making of a protected disclosure does not necessarily prevent the conduct of any other statutory procedure. Any member of the Defence Forces who feels that s/he has been penalised or threatened with penalisation for making a protected disclosure has the right to make a complaint to the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces.

*****

The Irish Air Corps routinely use the Medical Boarding process as a HR tool to dismiss those they perceive as “troublemakers”.

It is interesting to note that Minister Simon Coveney does not use this opportunity to deny that whistle-blowers’ are sacked from the Air Corps using the medical boarding process. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 09/12/20 – Why is death in service rate of (smaller) Irish Air Corps higher than (larger) Naval Service

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 94

To ask the Minister for Defence the reason the rate of death in service of Air Corps personnel over the past 20 years is approximately twice the rate of death of that of Naval Service personnel when the figures are adjusted for service strength; if he and or his predecessors have ever commissioned an analysis of Defence Force personnel death rates and causes of death while in a post service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42242/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The total deaths in service for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service for the past 20 years as of 31 October is 204, 21 and 16 respectively.

The Deputy will be aware that there is ongoing litigation in relation to allegations regarding the use of certain chemicals in the Air Corps. As the matter is subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment on any speculation which may impact on such litigation.

*****

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 95


To ask the Minister for Defence the breakdown of Air Corps personnel deaths by categories of non-accidental death and accidental death while in service for the past 20 years to date. [42243/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The total deaths in service for the Air Corps since 2000 as of 30 November 2020 is 21.

The Military Authorities have advised that six of those deaths relate to accidents, four of which occurred while the personnel in question were on duty. Fifteen deaths were non-accident related.

*****

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 24/11/20 – No plans by Minister Coveney to audit health of Irish Air Corps personnel despite proven Health & Safety failings

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 464

To ask the Minister for Defence his plans to carry out a full health audit of serving members of the Air Corps. [38582/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

A comprehensive range of primary and secondary medical services are provided to all members of the Permanent Defence Force. This is to ensure that personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them, and to treat any medical conditions arising which would inhibit their capacity to undertake such duties. This includes an annual medical examination which comprises a review of the individual’s medical history and a full physical examination.

*****

Air Corps personnel have been badly served by the Medical Corps

  • Treated chemically injured personnel as malingerers.
  • Refused to refer injured personnel for specialised consultant care for complex illnesses.
  • Used the medical boarding system as a “HR resolution tool” to dismiss chemically injured personnel.
  • Disallowed the testimony of expert medical consultants at such medical boards used to dismiss even whistleblowers.
  • Admonished chemically injured personnel for using civilian doctors even sending  military ambulances to retrieve sick personnel from their homes.
  • Attempted to access medical records of chemically injured personnel in civilian hospitals without their consent.

It must be said that the negligence of engineering officers within the Formation Safety Office hindered the work of doctors on the ground at Baldonnel and wider afield. 

If the FSO had carried out chemical risk assessments, conducted with “proper vigor” by competent & trained personnel, they would in many instances have required risk specific health surveillance. Risks specific health surveillance would have given medics a “heads up” regarding symptoms of “at risk” illnesses.  This should in turn have lead to annual medical assessments more tailored to these risks than the “standard” annual medical that all members of the Defence Forces undergo. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE