83 Untimely deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical exposure tragedy

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 83 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 70 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 46 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • 37% of deaths are from  cancer
  • 30% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 18% of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 51 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 21/07/20 – No internal investigation into Irish Air Corps safety failures

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 353

To ask the Minister for Defence the actions he, his officials, the Chief of Staff Branch, Air Corps headquarters and or the State Claims Agency has taken to investigate the reasons for the non-compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 1989 and 2005 at the Air Corps as stated by the Health and Safety Authority investigation which concluded after nearly three years in September 2018; and the steps taken at all levels to ensure the same failings to do not occur again in the Air Corps or the other branches of the Defence Forces. [16654/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

I wish to assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a high priority for me, my Department and the military authorities.

The Deputy will be aware that following three inspections at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel during 2016, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) issued a Report of Inspection to the Air Corps on 21 October, 2016. This report listed a number of advisory items for follow up, including the areas of risk assessments, safety statements and the provision and use of personal protective equipment.

The resultant Air Corps improvement plan confirmed the Air Corps’ full commitment to implementing improved safety measures that protect workers and ensure risks are as low as reasonably practicable.

The Air Corps improvement plan was implemented over eight phases, which the military authorities have advised are now complete, with phase eight, chemical awareness training and respiratory equipment training, being a continuous process.

The HSA has formally noted the high level of cooperation received and the considerable progress made to date by the Air Corps in this regard and their investigation is now closed.

A wide range of other measures are in place to ensure the health and safety of those serving in the Air Corps including monitoring exposure levels, conducting annual occupational medical screening, audits and training.

As the health and wellbeing of the men and women working in the Air Corps is a priority, the former Minister ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps in Baldonnel were independently reviewed. The independent report considered the Defence Forces health and safety regime, its current policy and its application and made a number of observations including in relation to documentation, health surveillance, and exposure to monitoring. The report was published on the Department’s website following its circulation to those who made disclosures.

The Air Corps and the wider Defence organisation is committed to complying with health and safety legislation. The organisation is proactive in ensuring that the best standards are adhered to in order to ensure that the risk to human health is as low as reasonably practicable.

The Deputy will appreciate that as litigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

*****

It would have offered some small comfort to survivors of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy if the recently re-appointed Minister Coveney had stated that the health & welfare of former personnel who served at Casement Aerodrome was also high priority for him, his Department and the military authorities but alas he chose not to do so at this time.

In terms of the “high level of cooperation” and the “full commitment to implementing improved safety measures” we must be very clear, the Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action if the Irish Air Corps did not comply with their instructions to improve conditions at Baldonnel.

To say there was a high level of cooperation is nonsense because the Air Corps had no choice but to comply. It is akin to a drunk driver crashing into a cafe & injuring scores of people then having a judge praise their cooperation once caught. 

Calling the orders of the HSA “advisory” is also a subtle attempt to downplay the seriousness of the problems discovered. But yes issuing PPE such as gloves, respirators, eye protection and also providing chemical safety training 28 years after they became mandatory is indeed “great progress”. 

But why was no disciplinary process started within the Defence Forces to hold to account those in management who presided over the decades long health & safety shambles?

Current Irish Air Corps compliance with workplace Health & Safety legislation is merely a veneer. There has been no change to safety culture and the Formation Safety Office is severely under resourced and with no dedicated H&S enforcement personnel.

Surprisingly, Vice Admiral Mellett told an Air Corps campaigner recently that it is difficult to change the safety culture of an organisation like the Air Corps. If only the Chief of Staff ahad powerful enforcement tool at his disposal such as military law to force such a culture change through quickly?

When there is a will there is a way, unfortunately decades on from the Army deafness scandal, the insular Defence Forces still don’t understand true Health & Safety from the bottom to the very top of the organisation and without proper understanding there is no will to change. 

In terms of the independent third party investigation it was neither independent nor third party. While there may have been initial attempts to find an independent third party specialist with toxicological or chemical experience, the last government eventually decided to appoint a recently retired barrister from the office of the Attorney General. This is an office of the state that is being sued by former Air Corps personnel so by no stretch of the imagination was this investigator independent nor third party, he was a retired civil servant still on the payroll of the state.

The so called “O’Toole report” is striking because the investigator states at the very start of the report that he was not qualified to undertake the investigation he was tasked to carry out.

My expertise is in the area of law and in carrying out this review it was my intention to examine compliance by the Air Corps with the relevant law and regulation. I was not in a position to consider the substances in use or any implications for human health arising from such use as these issues are outside my competence. The allegations concern both the current health and safety regime and compliance with that regime in a period stretching back over 20 years.

That Minister Coveney can point to this investigation as something worthwhile is stretching credibility. Essentially, the reason for appointing O’Toole was to slow down the  need for a political response to the problem and to ultimately justify doing zero to help save lives & reduce suffering of exposed Air Corps personnel. 

The “O’Toole Report” officially known as the “Report of the Independent Reviewer – Protected Disclosures – Air Corps” can be read in full via the link below.

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2250a7-report-of-the-independent-reviewer-protected-disclosures-air-corps/

The Risk Management Section of the State Claims Agency audited Irish Air Corps compliance with Health & Safety for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene to stop the ongoing unprotected exposure of the workforce to carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants & toxic chemicals at Casement Aerodrome.

The HSA file was opened in January 2016 and was only closed in September 2018 but the “superb” health & safety performance of the Air Corps for the decade prior to HSA intervention allowed the State Claims Agency & NTMA to justify discretionary performance-related payments for their own personnel & senior management. 

The State Claims agency earned bonus pay for improvements in Air Corps health & safety risk profile while the very same same Air Corps continued to seriously harm serving personnel through lack of even the most basic health & safety measures.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Army Deafness Claims & the role of Independent Newspapers Group

In the early 1990s the Irish Independent & Evening Herald kicked off a campaign of ridicule against the Irish Defence Forces due to the high age profile of Irish military personnel.

In the 1990s Irish Defence Forces personnel were issued with ONE pair of disposable ear plugs annually and were fined if they lost them.

Driven by “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the ranks of the Defence Forces had swelled in the 1970s and with a severe recession in the 1980s personnel were obviously reluctant to leave.  Subsequently the average age of an Irish soldier in the early 1990s hovered around the 42 year age mark.

Being true patriots, the Irish Independent & Evening Herald kicked off a campaign of ridicule against the Defence Forces trotting out “Dad’s Army” headlines and urging the government to reduce the age profile.

Knowing how Independent newspapers group operate they were probably conniving with some political party to bring this about. Perhaps it was Fine Gael who connived with the Indo although later the same newspaper helped topple the FG led rainbow coalition with the infamous “it’s payback time” headline the morning of a general election.

Ray Burke TD had issued an Independent Newspapers group subsidiary “Princes Holdings” with MMDS licences for the rebroadcasting of TV signals across Ireland and the Indo had subsequently gotten a bit upset that the rainbow government had failed to crackdown on community TV deflectors which ate into their MMDS profits.  As it turns out Princes Holdings had issued cheques of £30,000 made payable to “cash” to Ray Burke before he awarded them the licences.

In order to lower the age profile, the Department of Defence had to find a way of encouraging older soldiers to leave so that they could start a recruitment campaign for younger personnel. If any other state or semi state employer at the time needed to reduce headcount they offered a Voluntary Early Retirement (VER) package to entice older personnel to leave but the Department of Defence had a better idea.

Military personnel were in a somewhat insecure position in terms of employment in that they were on rolling contracts some of which were in terms as low as 3-years. It was possible that the Defence Forces could decide that your “service was no longer required” and at the end of a particular contract term you could be refused re-engagement. The Department of Defence decided take advantage of “service no longer required”.

The Department of Defence decided to introduce a stringent annual medical and a stringent annual fitness test. As part of the annual medical they introduced a hearing test and this is where the spectacular own goal kicked into play.

Personnel who had served the Defence Forces during a very difficult period in the history of the Irish state started to be informed that their service would be no longer required because their hearing was not up to the required new standard.

Anyone who served in the Defence Forces during this period knows that Health & Safety was nonexistent. There are stories of soldiers bringing civvy ear defenders to range practice only to be told to take them off because the were not “issued”.  All personnel, including those firing heavy weapons , such as artillery, mortars & naval guns, had to make do with stuffing cotton wool into their ears if they were lucky.

When some basic disposable foam earplugs were eventually introduced there were occasions where these were handed out on the ranges only to be collected again and handed out again “used” to different personnel the next day. Yes, some personnel received disposable earplugs that had been inside someone elses ear.

The Defence Forces commenced informing personnel that their service would no longer be required and indeed some were discharged on medical grounds for hearing loss. This spread panic amongst serving personnel as they faced losing their livelihood in a country still in tough economic circumstances.

When personnel started to compare the printed results of their audiometry tests they started to notice a consistent common pattern in the hearing loss. The loss was most pronounced at the frequency range that matched gunfire.

Considerable rules & military law existed for the protection of hearing in the Defence Forces stretching as far back as the the Defence Act of 1954 but these had been utterly ignored. Similar to how the Irish Air Corps ignored legislation relating to chemical Health & Safety, the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence simply ignored their own rules on protecting serving soldiers hearing to save money.

Internal DoD/DF communications came to light where it was revealed that spending of £2 million on full hearing protection for all personnel was refused on cost grounds.

The threat of job losses spurred personnel to take legal action for the hearing loss they suffered. This later spread to FCA/RDF personnel as they were treated in an equally appalling manner.

Eventually the Department of Defence did introduce a Voluntary Early Retirements scheme which ironically was used to bully Irish Air Corps personnel out of SAR squadron at Baldonnel. A SAR winchman who had been injured likely by exposure to aviation fuel & exhaust gasses was treated as a malingerer and returned from sick leave to find an already completed VER form in his locker…all that was left was to sign the dotted line.

Even today the Department of Defence still try to paint the biggest own goal in the history of the state as a scam perpetrated by soldiers and the Independent who helped kick off the whole scandal are happy to keep spreading this misinformation.

Perhaps the Indo can investigate how thousands of serving, retired & reserve personnel were able to spoof deafness at 4kHz?  Anyone who has ever sat an audiometry evaluation knows that the frequencies are fed to you randomly so either thousands of personnel are pitch perfect at spotting 4kHz signals or perhaps it wasn’t a scam at all and through decades of neglect the hearing of thousands of personnel was damaged.

We know who the courts believed!

Incidentally with 78 untimely deaths in the Irish Air Corps workplace chemical exposure,  the Irish Independent are more than willing to look the other way and completely ignore the tragedy. No shareholders interests are being harmed obviously and you only have to consider their anti Sinn Fein headlines to understand how politically directed the Indo currently are.

Delay – Deny – Die

It is interesting to note that the Independent have trotted out former Minister for Defence Michael Smith and there are two things worthy of note.
Firstly Minister Smith,  who paints himself as a hero who defended state coffers from greedy, cheating Defence Forces personnel, was a member of the Fianna Fail cabinet who struck a deal in 2002 to indemnify religious orders from legal action due to clerical child abuse. It has estimated that this deal which Smith’s cabinet signed off, has cost the state in the region of €1,500,000,000, yes folks Smith was party to actions that left the irish state liable for claims totalling €1.5 billion so far. 
Secondly, a serving member of the Irish Air Corps was knocked down and left for dead in a hit & run collision outside Templemore in October 1994 This man was badly injured suffering fractured eye sockets, haemorrhaged eyes, thirty fractures to his upper & lower jaws, his back was broken in four places, his hips were dislocated and his internal organs bruised.
This motorist drove over his head, did a U turn, stopped to look at him and then drove off leaving him to eventually fall into a coma.

The injured Air Corps technician, who had represented the Defence Forces as an athlete at national level, worked hard to make a good recovery . He subsequently attempted to carry out a fitness test required to extend his contract but the Air Corps refused to allow him take the fitness test saying he wasn’t medically fit to conduct the test.

The Air Corps technician sought the assistance of Minister Smith to intervene and overturn the decision to not allow him to conduct his fitness test but the minister never intervened and the airman was effectively sacked.

The motorist was charged with leaving the scene of an accident/crime by Gardai. The victim’s legal team called the Gardai seeking to know when the case was coming to court, as their client was obviously the chief witness, but the Gardai informed the victims legal team that no date was scheduled. 

It turns out that the information the Gardai passed to the victim’s legal team was untrue and the case went to court a few days subsequent to the phone call without the victim being present. With no witnesses the charges against the motorist were dismissed. 

By sheer coincidence the woman who knocked down the Air Corps technician and left him for dead happened to be a niece of Minister Michael Smith, the same minister who would not help him save his job. 

Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD reiterates call for formal investigation into chemical exposure on Air Corps personnel

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has today reiterated his call for the Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe to establish a formal investigation into the health effects of years of exposure to toxic chemicals on Irish Air Corps personnel

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of current and former members of the Irish Air Corps (both civilian & military) were exposed to a vast cocktail of highly dangerous workplace chemicals including carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants and immune sensitisers.

Teachta Ó Snodaigh said;

“The failure of the Air Corps management to implement even the most basic chemical safety provisions possibly resulted in considerable physical and mental health injury to exposed personnel.


“The exposure to toxic chemicals for decades appears from figures collated by former Air Corps personnel to have contributed to a very high number of fatalities from a variety of rare and complex cancers, cardiovascular disease and suicides, and also high rates of miscarriage of partners.

“For 20 years, military authorities ignored recommendations from safety reports and only acted when their failure to act was highlighted by whistleblowers.

Read full press release on Sinn Féin website below…

*****

Please view the honourable & fair demands of
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors  here.
  • 77 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 64 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 40 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
  • 25 of these deaths have occured since the Minister for Defence was notified by Protected Disclosure in 2015
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • Approximately a third of deaths are from  cancer
  • Approximately a third of deaths are cardiac related
  • Approximately a fifth of deaths are from suicide (15)
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 50 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths or murder.

Delay – Deny – Die

Do not give Paul Kehoe ANY preference in #GE2020

The Minister for Defence was informed  about ongoing unprotected toxic chemical exposures at Baldonnel in 2015 via numerous Protected Disclosures.

At the time the minister was warned that 8 men may have suffered untimely deaths due to chemical exposure.

After further research Kehoe was informed in 2018 that we had discovered a further 48 untimely deaths bringing the total to 56.

As of now January 2020 we have records of 77 untimely deaths of Irish Air Corps personnel. Some of these men died by their own hands and could have been saved if Kehoe intervened but he chose to do nothing.  Doing nothing meant that men continued to die unnecessarily.

A HSA investigation threatened legal action in 2016 unless the Air Corps complied with the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Act, 1989 (updated 2005).

A sham “independent third party”  investigation by a retired barrister from the office of the Attorney General which was ordered by Kehoe found no evidence that the Air Corps had implemented any chemical health and safety prior to whistleblowers making complaints to the minster and the HSA. Kehoe could have sent in a chemical expert, Kehoe could have sent in a medical expert but Kehoe decided to send in a government barrister and pretended he was an independent third party.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing by the Air Corps Minister Kehoe never once expressed concern for former members of the service and never sought to ascertain the true health state of exposed serving and former personnel.

KEHOE MUST GO – KEHOE HAS BLOOD ON HIS HANDS

  • 77 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 64 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 40 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • Approximately a third of deaths are from  cancer
  • Approximately a third of deaths are cardiac related
  • Approximately a fifth of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 50 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths or murder.

77 *Untimely deaths recorded of Irish Air Corps personnel

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 77 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 64 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 40 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • Approximately a third of deaths are from  cancer
  • Approximately a third of deaths are cardiac related
  • Approximately a fifth of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 50 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths or murder.

74 Untimely deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical scandal

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 74 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 61 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 37 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • Approximately a third of deaths are from  cancer
  • Approximately a third of deaths are from cardiac
  • Approximately a fifth of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 50 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths or murder.

73 Untimely deaths recorded in Irish Air Corps toxic chemical scandal

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 73 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 60 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 37 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • Approximately a third of deaths are from  cancer
  • Approximately a third of deaths are from cardiac
  • Approximately a fifth of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 50 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths or murder.

72 Untimely deaths recorded in #IrishAirCorps toxic chemical scandal

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 72 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980 
  • 59 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 36 of these deaths have occurred since 2010
Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.
 

3 most significant causes of death

  • Approximately a third of deaths are from  cancer
  • Approximately a third of deaths are from cardiac
  • Approximately a fifth of deaths are from suicide
*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 49 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths or murder.

Never forget the 71+ untimely deaths from Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Scandal

Let us not forget the 71+ Irish Air Corps personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice NEEDLESSLY. That’s 71 sons, brothers & fathers who will never be home for Christmas ever again.

Let us think of their families & work to prevent further unnecessary deaths.

Perhaps the Irish Air Corps will work to help survivors in 2019 rather than actively denying appropriate healthcare as they have consistently done to date.

DELAY – DENY – DIE