Dáil Éireann – 4th July 2019 – Public Accounts Committee – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North)Public Accounts Committee

Watch Deputy Catherine Murphy question Mr. Ciaran Breen, Director of the State Claims Agency and Mr. Pat Kirwan,  Head of Enterprise Risk, also at the State Claims Agency, about the failure of a decade of Risk Management Section, Heath & Safety Management System audits at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

The State Claims Agency audits at Baldonnel commenced in 2006 and continued as the Irish Air Corps were investigated by the Health & Safety Authority in 2016 for serious breaches of the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 2005. Breaches that including the very basic failure to provide PPE or chemical training.

It took the threat of legal action by the Health & Safety Authority as well as 2 years & 9 months of intervention to finally close the HSA file on what their own inspectors described as the most serious case of chemical misuse in the history of the state.

It should be noted that the State Claims Agency were not only aware from 2013 that the unprotected chemical exposures at Baldonnel were an ONGOING LIVE ISSUE, but bizarrely failed to intervene to prevent further exposure once this knowledge was in their possession.

It took the actions of three whistle-blowers in 2015 to bring the ongoing toxic chemical Health & Safety failures at the Irish Air Corps to the attention of the Minister for Defence and also to the attention of the Health & Safety Authority.

Why did the State Claims Agency fail to notice the high rate of untimely mortality, the high rate of suicide, the high rate of sick leave, the lack of PPE records and the lack of any chemical training records in 10 years of supposed audits.

Why did the State Claims Agency fail to act in 2013 when they did become aware that personnel were still being needlessly exposed to dangerous chemicals without PPE and without any chemical safety training?

Dáil Éireann – 8th November 2018 – Public Accounts Committee

Catherine Murphy T.D. (Kildare North)

Public Accounts Committee

Deputy Murphy questions Mr. Ciaran Breen the Director of the State Claims Agency, regarding the agency’s stance on claims taken agains the Irish Air Corps regarding unprotected toxic chemicla exposure.

 

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 – Oral Question 38 – 26th June 2018 – Irish Air Corps Protected Disclosure

Mr. Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South-Central )

Question No. 38

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has received a protected disclosure from a member of the  Defence Forces (details supplied); if he has responded to the disclosure; and the action that has been taken on foot of the disclosure. — Aengus Ó Snodaigh. [27762/18]

*****

To be clear Minister Paul Kehoe & Taoiseach Leo Varadkar received this Protected Disclosure in December 2017, issued a receipt and have ignored since. 

Dáil Éireann – Oral Question 7 – 10th May 2018 – Irish Air Corps Survivors

Mr. Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South-Central )

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 matter

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.

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 05/12/17 – State Claims Agency

Seán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)

QUESTION NO: 141

Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Finance if personnel employed by the State Claims Agency branch of the National Treasury Management Agency are eligible for bonus payments; and if so, the way in which these bonuses are structured and attained. [51615/17]

Paschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)

The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has informed me that it 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.

The overall amount of performance related payments made in respect of any year is also subject to the approval of the Remuneration Committee.

*****

Did “improvements” to Air Corps Health & Safety Risk Management Profile influence  bonus payments to State Claims Agency staff

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

Dáil Éireann Debates 07/02/18 – Leaders Questions on Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Scandal

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

Seven cases are being taken against the State by current and former serving members of the Air Corps. They believe that they have been forced to take this action by the State’s failure to protect them from their exposure to toxic chemicals during their service, which led to serious, chronic and fatal illnesses, including cancer. While those cases will ultimately be dealt with by the courts, that does not prevent the State from taking action. As early as the 1990s, numerous State-commissioned reports highlighted health and safety concerns about chemical exposure at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, but no action was taken at the time. In fact, these reports mysteriously disappeared or were ordered to be shredded. Even after litigation commenced in 2013, basic health and safety precautions were not implemented at Baldonnel. It appears it was only after the Health and Safety Authority conducted an inspection in 2016 that personnel were provided with basic precautions like personal protection equipment such as gloves and overalls.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of personnel who have passed through Baldonnel may be suffering from chronic and even fatal illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals during their service. There is also a possibility that family members have been affected, as evidence suggests that there is a higher rate of a variety of health conditions among spouses and children, including stillbirths and miscarriages. The Government has taken no action to find out the extent of this scandal or to ascertain how many people might be suffering as a result of it. Instead, it is fighting tooth and nail through the courts to force sick people to take gruelling journeys in search of justice. By comparison, the Australian Government has set up a board of inquiry to conduct a thorough investigation into similar matters. It commissioned a survey of health outcomes for the relevant personnel and their families and put in place a health care system for those who were affected.

As the Taoiseach knows, a protected disclosure from one of the whistleblowers was recently released publicly. It makes for harrowing reading. It lists 56 deaths of former serving Air Corps personnel at an average age of 48. All of the cases listed relate specifically to people who died before they reached the age of 66. The disclosure is based on research done by the whistleblower in the absence of any State-funded investigation into these matters, but it is by no means exhaustive. I believe another number of deaths have been identified since it was published. It is clear that successive Governments have failed in their duty of care to the men and women who served in the Air Corps. This Government has an opportunity to do the right thing. We do not want to be here in ten years’ time with a higher death toll, having failed to address this scandal. Has the Taoiseach read the disclosure? Has he responded to the whistleblower in question? Does he accept that the time has come to order a full inquiry into these matters?

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach & Minister for Defence (Dublin West, Fine Gael)

As the Deputy said, a number of cases are currently before the courts. While I have absolutely no doubt that the serious ill-health suffered by some former members of the Air Corps is real, it has not been proven whether this array of illnesses could be caused by chemical exposure. Obviously, these cases will be heard in the courts, which will hear all the evidence and, on that basis, make a determination on the claim or allegation that all of these illnesses were caused by chemical exposure. I think that is the right way for this to proceed. The health and well-being of men and women of the Air Corps are, of course, matters of huge concern and interest for the Government.

The Minister of State has ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances while working in Baldonnell were independently reviewed. Before considering any further steps, the Minister of State has asked those who made the disclosures for their views. He is examining options for next steps in the process in light of the views he has received from those who made the allegations in the context of ongoing litigation.

The independent report considers the Defence Forces’ health and safety regime and its current policy and application. In respect of historic matters, as litigation had commenced before protected disclosures were made, the report states that the courts are now the most appropriate forum for such matters to be assessed and are the best place to assess all the evidence. Although the report finds that the Defence Forces’ regime appears to be capable of meeting the statutory requirements, it makes a number of observations, including in respect of documentation, health surveillance and exposure monitoring. It also observes that the Health and Safety Authority is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations.

Separately, and in parallel to this independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps has continued to work with the Health and Safety Authority to improve its health and safety regime. It should be noted that there is a significant overlap between the recommendations of the HSA and those of the independent reviewer. The military authorities have informed the Minister of State that the HSA has formally noted the high level of co-operation received from the Air Corps and the considerable progress made to date by the Defence Forces towards the implementation of safety management systems for the control of hazardous substances.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

There is no denying that things are better in the Air Corps. However, what the Taoiseach has just read out does not in any way address the legacy of bad management and a bad health and safety record there. I do not know if the Taoiseach remembers that he is also Minister for Defence. He has a direct responsibility to look into these matters. He is also a medical doctor and will understand the list of illnesses that has been provided to his Minister of State, which includes very serious and often fatal conditions, as the other disclosure indicated. We do not know how many people have been exposed in an unprotected way because nobody has carried out a survey. The Australians did not wait for the courts to adjudicate fully, they acted immediately.

There is a list of chemicals, albeit a partial one, which was given to Deputy Lisa Chambers. How many of the people involved have been exposed? As the Taoiseach is aware, if a doctor does not know what people have been exposed to, he cannot help, diagnose, prescribe or direct medical procedures. This is about saving lives. Will the Taoiseach act now not in respect of the specific cases but on the legacy of all of those who are suffering in the general public?

Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach & Minister for Defence (Dublin West, Fine Gael)

The Deputy is absolutely correct; I am Minister for Defence. The Government has delegated responsibility for defence matters to the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, whom I fully trust to deal with this issue appropriately.

I am a medical doctor and have seen the list of illnesses that these former members of the Air Corps and their families have suffered. It is a very long and extensive list of illnesses, including the most common illnesses which most people may encounter, namely, cancer, cardiovascular disease, suicide and miscarriages by their partners. As a medical doctor, it is not possible for me to say if exposure to chemicals caused all or any of these illnesses because they are commonplace in the community at large. If it was one specific illness resulting from a known chemical that caused such an illness, that would be one thing. These are not the allegations that are being made, however. There is litigation before the courts, which are best placed to assess the evidence and see whether the allegations are supported by it.

*****

We will follow up the above Dáil debate with a critique of the misleading statements by the Taoiseach, Dr. Leo Varadkar in due course.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Leo Varadkar urged to act on Air Corps chemical exposure ‘legacy’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he believes the courts should decide whether former Air Corps staff are suffering chronic illnesses due to chemical exposure.

Mr Varadkar made the comments yesterday in the Dáil where Sinn Féin Defence Spokesperson Aengus O’Snodaigh repeated calls for a health study of Air Corps members, similar to an analysis of Australian Air Force staff, which found technicians who worked with carcinogenic chemicals were at greater risk of illness.

Last year, the Irish Examiner revealed the State is facing a number of claims from former staff, and that whistleblowers had raised concerns about the safety of workers using chemicals at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

“While I have absolutely no doubt that the serious ill-health suffered by some former members of the Air Corps is real, it has not been proven whether this array of illnesses could be caused by chemical exposure,” Mr Varadkar said.

“There is litigation in the courts, which are the best place to assess the evidence and see whether the allegations are supported by that evidence,” he said.

Mr O’Snodaigh said a survey is needed as the implications of widespread staff exposure to the chemicals used goes beyond the seven cases currently against the State. “We do not want to be here in 10 years’ time with a higher death toll, having failed to address this scandal,”he said.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Delay – Deny – Die

The vast majority of Irish Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors are not currently engaged in legal action. For these serving and former personnel the Taoiseach is offering them no respite, not assistance and no hope.