Minster Kehoe ‘satisfied’ with Air Corps audits

The Junior Defence Minister said he is “fully satisfied” the State Claims Agency (SCA) can adequately carry out health audits in the Air Corps despite a separate workplace safety watchdog finding a series of failings at Casement Aerodrome after a decade of annual inspections by the SCA.

Mr Kehoe gave his backing to the SCA after he told the Dáil that the agency “conducted a number of Health and Safety Management System Defence Forces audits within the Air Corps between the years 2006-2015”.

The whistle-blower complaints also prompted an independent review. In his report, the reviewer said “a problem has arisen in relation to the issues raised by the three informants because appropriate records to demonstrate compliance are not readily available”.

The SCA’s audits were not made available to the reviewer, nor was an internal Air Corps report, seen by this newspaper, which raised concerns about staff exposure to the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethylene.

The SCA is currently defending 21 court cases against the Air Corps, including a number from ex-personnel who say their exposure to chemicals at Casement Aerodrome led to serious illnesses.

Mr Kehoe revealed the decade of SCA audits in response to a parliamentary question from Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who was critical of the decision not to release reports.

“Time and time again the minister states that the health and welfare of the Defence Forces personnel is a high priority for him and the military authorities. This may be the case, but the health and welfare of all future recruits and contractors should be too,” Ms Murphy told the Irish Examiner.

“Health and Safety reports should not be shrouded in secrecy. It is an area of expertise of the Health and Safety Authority, perhaps they should really be leading on this, I question whether the State Claims Agency in the past provided an adequate service and applied robust enough tests to the working environment at Baldonnel.”

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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In the interests of transparency, Minister Kehoe should release all the State Claims Agency Health & Safety Management System Audits of Baldonnel with immediate effect.

If the audits were carried out to an adequate standard what has Minister Kehoe got to hide?

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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

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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.

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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

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.

Brendan Howlin: Review Air Corps health claims

Labour leader Brendan Howlin is not satisfied with the Government’s response to the Air Corps chemical exposure scandal, and has called for an external review of the allegations.

In the absence of military or government statistics on untimely deaths in the Irish Air Corps we created our own. We are happy to have these tested or even proven wrong by better statistics gathered by the state in a comprehensive, open and transparent manner. #WeAreNotStatisticians

The State is facing seven High Court claims from former Air Corps technicians, who say they suffer chronic illnesses due to exposure to toxic chemicals while they were cleaning and servicing aircraft.

A number of whistleblowers have made protected disclosures about working conditions in Air Corps headquarters at Casement Aerodrome. The Health and Safety Authority subsequently investigated, and threatened legal action, unless the Defence Forces improved worker safety.

Mr Howlin raised the issue in the Dáil last month, and has since received correspondence from the Government.

“I’ve raised it with the Taoiseach directly and I’ve gotten a two-page response from the minister with responsibility for defence, and I’m not satisfied,” Mr Howlin said. “There needs to be at least an expert-review panel set up to look into this in some detail.”

However, Mr Howlin did not call for a full commission of investigation, but said that the findings of an external review should determine whether such a process is necessary.

“Whether a full tribunal of investigation is required remains to be seen, but the first step to that is to have an external, expert review, and that needs to happen immediately, and I certainly will be pressing for that,” he said.

This review should include a health study of Air Corps members past and present to determine if they have a higher prevalence of chronic conditions compared to the general public, he said.

“That would have to be a critical part of the review, because, once the fears are there, they have to be empirically checked out,” Mr Howlin said.

“They are either fact or not fact. There’s no point in people either dismissing them, or saying it’s a fact. We need to have external, independent, authoritative decisions on these matters.”

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Suicide, cancer and organ failure – today we list all the alleged victims of the Air Corps chemical scandal

FOR THE LAST year, TheJournal.ie has been covering allegations made by former members of the Irish Air Corps that exposure to harmful chemicals during their careers has led to the untimely deaths of many of their colleagues.

It’s the contention of a number of Air Corps members that the effects of the chemicals contributed to dozens of workers at the Baldonnel Airfield becoming ill.

In a protected disclosure made by one of the workers earlier this year, it has also been alleged that the partners of male members of the force suffered serious fertility issues and a number of miscarriages. Other children, according to the protected disclosure, are living with life-changing illnesses and, in some cases, have died.

Today, after receiving details verified through death certificates of each of those who has passed away, we can publish details of 45 deceased members: their ages, their causes of death and what position they held in the Air Corps.

Read full article on The Journal website below…

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Probe into Air Corps allegations urged

The Air Corps’ failure to protect workers from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals may have affected thousands of people, causing 100 deaths as well as birth defects and miscarriages, the Dáil heard yesterday.

The claim, previously made in a protected disclosure to the Department of Defence, was aired as opposition politicians increased the pressure on the Government to commission an investigation into working conditions at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnell.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin criticised the Government’s efforts to have whistle-blowers’ claims of health and safety mismanagement adequately investigated after the details of an independent report were reported by the Irish Examiner.

Christopher O’Toole, an independent third-party appointed to review the claims, reported that the kind of probe envisaged by the terms of reference he was given by the Department of Defence was “impractical”, given his own lack of expertise in chemical science and medicine.

However, Mr O’Toole did report that appropriate records that demonstrate the Air Corps complied with health and safety standards “are not readily available”.

Putting questions to junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe in the Dáil yesterday, Sinn Féin Defence spokesman Aengus O’Snodaigh outlined the litany of allegations against the Air Corps, noting claims of “clusters of highly complicated medical conditions, miscarriages, and birth defects among those who worked in those conditions”.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Report of Independent Reviewer – Protected Disclosures – Air Corps

Terms of Reference

The review shall encompass a review of all relevant documents held by the  Department and the Defence Forces, any additional material as may be supplied or received by the Reviewer, and interviews of such persons as considered appropriate by the Reviewer.

The Reviewer will:

  1. Review the allegations as detailed in the written correspondence to the Minister and determine if –
    • In the period covered by the disclosure, did the Air Corps comply with relevant Health and Safety standards with regard to the safe use of toxic chemicals and if not what action has been taken in the intervening period to ensure compliance.
  2. In relation the disclosure, provide considered views and observations in relation to the allegations set out.
  3. Provide such other considered views and observations as are considered necessary.

The Reviewer shall be provided with access to all available documentation relevant to the events and any other documentation requested by the Reviewer.

The Reviewer shall be provided with the names of all relevant persons, including serving or retired members of the Defence Forces, or other persons the Reviewer considers appropriate. The Reviewer shall endeavour to interview or take statements from all relevant persons.

The Department of Defence and the Defence Forces shall each appoint a liaison officer to provide the necessary information required in order to conduct the review and to assist the Reviewer in identifying the relevant persons to be interviewed.

The review shall be submitted to the Minister with Responsibility for Defence by the Reviewer.

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Please click on the link below to open the report on the Department of Defence website.