Court rules against State ahead of ex-Air Corps mechanic’s case alleging exposure to dangerous chemicals

The State must disclose a range of documents to a former aircraft mechanic in the Air Corps who is suing it over his alleged exposure on dates during the 1990s to dangerous chemicals, the Supreme Court has ruled.

He is among several former mechanics suing over alleged exposure to dangerous chemicals and solvents during their employment.

Today, a five-judge Supreme Court gave a unanimous judgment overturning a Court of Appeal (COA) decision that Mr Tobin’s discovery application was premature.

The State denies he suffered the alleged injuries, requires him to fully prove his claims about exposure to dangerous chemicals and solvents and has also pleaded contributory negligence on his part.

In this case, no concessions of fact were made by the State defendants with the effect Mr Tobin must establish all matters relevant to his claim, he said. Had a “more nuanced” approach being taken by the defence, the discovery sought would have been reduced.

Context

In October 2016 the High Court granted Mr Tobin an order for discovery of the chemicals he used while working at Casement Aerodrome from 1989 to 1999. He had argued that he would need a full list of the chemicals he was asked to use during his time in the Air Corps in order to make his case against the State.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott granted the discovery order in the High Court and said that “the quantities and dates of purchase and use of chemicals and mixtures and the safety data concerning their handling, application and use form a highly relevant and important part of the case”.

He further ruled that Mr Tobin “will suffer serious disadvantage in the preparation and presentation of his case if the relevant records sought under these categories are not made the subject of a discovery order”.

Today’s Supreme Court judgement was referenced in advance at a recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.On July 4 last, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy raised the Air Corps cases with SCA director, Ciarán Breen who said the Supreme Court ruling in the Tobin case would have implications for others to follow.

“One is in the court of appeal, and I think has been given a date for the year after next because there’s a glut of appeals in the Court of Appeal, and others are awaiting an important decision by the Supreme Court on a discovery issue,” Mr Breen had said of the status of the eight cases.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Abnormal number die early in Irish Air Corps

The Air Corps “seems to be a place where there’s an abnormal number of people who die prematurely”, according to a member of the Oireachtas’ Public Account Committee.

Social Democrats TD, Catherine Murphy, made the remark as the State Claims Agency confirmed to the PAC that there are eight cases being taken against the State regarding chemical exposure at the Air Corps.

Today officials from the State Claims Agency, which is handling the lawsuits against the State, appeared before the PAC. Ms Murphy raised the list during the PAC meeting, and said it showcases an “extraordinary age profile of people who have died in the Air Corps”.

“The Air Corps is not a big employer, and there’s 72 deaths, all pre-retirement, some very young. Now, a large core of the 72, about 14 or 15, are by suicide, but others are in particular categories, like cancers and cardiacs. It seems to be a place where there are an abnormal number of people who die prematurely, and that would have jumped out to me as something that would make me question that there was a risk,” she said.

Ms Murphy also raised a reply she received from Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe which revealed the SCA had carried out annual health and safety audits at Casement Aerodrome.

SCA director, Ciarán Breen, said the cases against the State date from 1972-2007, and that the SCA began its audits in 2006: “In 2007, the particular workshop which is associated with the alleged exposure was changed to a state-of-the-art facility. At no time, during those audits and reviews, was anything specifically brought to our attention about the historical exposure, if there was one that might have been there, and how that was handled.”

However, Ms Murphy also highlighted how many of these annual SCA audits were carried out in the years before the Health and Safety Authority investigation and its adverse findings. “It’s my understanding that they did threaten live legal action,” she said of the HSA investigation.

“It seems extraordinary that you have one arm of the State that may be doing that and another giving a clean bill of health in terms of risk. That just doesn’t, for me, stack up in terms of mitigating risk into the future,” she said

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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The State Claims Agency have been carrying out Health & Safety Management System audits since 2006.

The Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action against the Irish Air Corps a decade later in 2016 if they did not comply with their instructions to improve chemical Health & Safety at Baldonnel. The instructions covered basic Health & Safety requirements that were mandatory since the SAFETY, HEALTH AND WELFARE AT WORK ACT, 1989. 

The questions must be asked, what was the purpose of the decade of State Claims Agency audits from 2006 to 2016 and what did they achieve in terms of improving the health & safety and risk profile of the Air Corps over those years? 

It should be noted that the problems with chemical exposure were spread across the entirety of Casement Aerodrome. Again the State Claims Agency are attempting to reduce the exposure problems at Baldonnel to ERF and this is simply NOT the case. 

Exposure issues existed in Avionics, Engine Shop, Machine Shop, NDT Workshop, Spray Paint Shop, Hydraulic Shop, Sheet Metal Shop, Carpentry Shop, Light Strike, BFTS, Heli, Refuelers, Transport, Fire Crew, Photo Section, Air Sup Coy Signals, Apprentice school, Main Block, Main Tech Stores and even the Training Depot was affected.

Delay – Deny – Die

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe “doesn’t give a damn” about Air Corps personnel health, claims whistleblower

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe “doesn’t give a damn” about Air Corps personnel health, claims whistle blower

A whistle-blower claims the Junior Minister for Defence “doesn’t give a damn” about the health and well-being of Air Corps personnel, two years on from the issuing of a report into his disclosures.

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe this week confirmed that it was in June 2017 when he first received a report of an independent reviewer who investigated allegations into claims that Air Corps technicians were unduly exposed to dangerous chemicals while working at Casement Aerodrome.

The whistle-blower has expressed his frustration at the delay in responding to his complaints and claims that 22 men have died since concerns were first raised in 2015. He believes these deaths can be linked to the men’s exposures to chemicals.

“Some of these men could have been saved but Minister Kehoe chose to do nothing,” the whistle-blower said.

“Minister Kehoe is constantly at pains to point out how safety, health and well-being of Air Corps personnel are of primary concern but his lack of action shows he doesn’t give a damn. Furthermore he has never said he has any concern for the health and well-being of former Air Corps personnel which is telling,” he said.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

DIE – Varadkar & Kehoe happy to let Irish Air Corps personnel die unnecessarily

Is it possible that these illnesses are a coincidence? Yes.

Could it be the case that there is no direct correlation between the chronic sickness suffered by former Air Corps staff and their working environment?

Absolutely.

But the evidence to date —what is known about the chemicals used in Baldonnel, the international precedents, the HSA inspection, the internal Air Corps memo — all these support the argument that at the very least, the possibility that conditions in Baldonnel have made people sick is worth a proper investigation.

However, this is a question the Government won’t ask because it fears the answer.

General Dynamics F-111 linked to RAAF Deseal / Reseal Scandal

 

It need not be this way.

Australia went through a major scandal when scores of its Air Force maintenance staff were found to be ill as a result of their working environment.

That scandal first emerged among a group of specialist staff who had a specific job, but the issue spread to Air Force staff who had exposures to a wider range of substances.

And yet in Australia, while those Air Force personnel involved in the health study have a higher rate of chronic illnesses than the general population, their mortality rate from those illnesses is actually lower.

Why?

Because the Australian government conducted an investigation, found a connection, and subsequently those affected knew the early warning signs, their doctors knew what to look out for, and earlier intervention was made possible.

There appears to be little appetite in Ireland to even investigate whether the same could possibly be happening here, despite the obvious potential benefits to a number of citizens.

Speaking privately, one of those who is seriously ill and who is before the court has admitted he believes he will be “in the ground” before his case reaches any sort of conclusion.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

DENY – An Taoiseach Dr. Leo Varadkar denies chemical link at Baldonnel

If only those foreign governments or Samsung had the medical advice on hand here in Ireland. Perhaps they would have held tough and refused compensation to their sick workers if they’d heard this suggestion by an Irish doctor:

“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,”Dr Leo Varadkar told the Dáil in February 2018.

However, the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry would not support Dr Varadkar’s view that we should be looking out for “one specific illness resulting from a known chemical” in the Air Corps case. It says there is sufficient evidence to be sure that exposure to TCE is causation for kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and cardiac defects.

They say the evidence is sufficient to conclude that a causal relationship is likely between exposure to TCE and leukaemia, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, end-stage renal disease, Parkinson’s disease, and scleroderma.

The agency says there are 21 different health effects — including various cancers, miscarriages, and birth defects — that have been found in at least one study that evaluated exposure to TCE and/or PCE.

Aside from that list of life-changing illnesses arising from exposure to TCE, it is worth bearing in mind that this was not the only chemical used in Baldonnel.

Varadkar and Kehoe’s stock answer to date is that there should be no examination of any connection between conditions in Baldonnel until the seven ongoing court cases are resolved. The first of these was lodged five years ago, and the State Claims Agency has fought these cases tooth and nail.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

DELAY – Irish Air Corps Chemical Deaths Mickey Mouse Inquiry

It is now over three years since whistle-blowers lifted the lid on issues in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

Five years have passed since the first personal injury claim against the State was lodged in the High Court.

The Irish Examiner reports that first highlighted these issues were published over two years ago.

With some exceptions, very little progress has been made in addressing the concerning matters at the heart of this scandal in the intervening period.

Writing in this newspaper last year, columnist Michael Clifford noted how there are two categories of inquiry frequently undertaken by a State agency or government organ.

“The standard inquiry is designed to find out whether something went wrong, how it happened, and who may be responsible,” he wrote.

“The other category frequently used, we shall refer to as the Mickey Mouse inquiry. This is designed to respond to a controversy.

“Turning over stones and digging for information is not the primary function of a Mickey Mouse inquiry.

“Instead, the main focus is to present the inquiry as an exhibit to show that something, anything, is being done,” he said.

Mr Clifford was referring to an inquiry into allegations by a Prison Service whistle-blower and recalled the initial attempts to “investigate” issues raised by Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

But he could easily have been referring to the lip service the Government has paid to serious allegations raised by Air Corps whistle-blowers, some ex-Defence Forces, and one still serving.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Delay, deny, and die: The official response to Air Corps chemical exposure fears

The Dáil is set to debate the establishment of a special committee to conduct hearings into the possible health effects of toxic chemical exposure among Air Corps personnel, after two years of revelations in the Irish Examiner, with TDs expected to back the investigation before the summer. Joe Leogue looks at what has brought us to this point.

It also calls for measures, including medical cards, “to address the health needs of personnel that have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, and extend these measures to any civilians affected and to students who may be affected while on work experience”.

The move comes years after whistleblower allegations, court cases, and revelations in this newspaper that have prompted many questions.

There are some who believe those in positions of power are happy to leave those questions unanswered.

Those who believe that Air Corps technicians are seriously ill because they suffered undue exposure to harmful chemicals while working in Casement Aerodrome say the Government response to their concerns can be summed up by “three Ds”.

Delay – Deny- Die

Delay any meaningful investigation into their claims; deny there is an issue; and finally, wait for these sick troublemakers to die and stop rocking the boat.

Truth be told, nothing the Government — or successive ministers for defence — have done in recent years would dispel anyone of that notion.

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

Hearings needed into Air Corps whistle-blower claims – Ó Snodaigh

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called for an Oireachtas inquiry into the claims made by Air Corps whistle-blowers that Defence Forces personnel suffered serious health consequences over decades as a result of toxic chemical exposure.

Teachta Ó Snodaigh said:

“I have drafted a Dáil motion calling for the establishment of a special Oireachtas committee to conduct relevant hearings into the claims made by Air Corps whistle-blowers and I will be seeking cross party support for it.”

“Informal research made by one of the whistle-blowers, provided to the Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe, raises questions over a number of deaths of former serving Air Corps personnel. Currently 73 deaths have occurred to personnel aged under 66 with the average age of 50.”

“The research has pointed to an unexplained, higher than normal concentration of very rare illnesses among relatively young former Air Corps personnel. They have called for a full health survey of serving and former Air Corps members, and those who worked in the Aerodrome to be carried out.”

“The aim of survey would be to try and quantify fully the scale and range of the health issue which they have linked to daily exposure to dangerous, corrosive and carcinogenic chemicals in areas of the Air Corps base.”

“The State was aware of these concerns following a number of reports Health and Safety drafted as early as the 1990s which highlighted dangerous working conditions and chemical exposures in Casement Aerodrome, in Baldonnel, County Dublin, which were not acted on.”

Please read the press release in full on the Sinn Féin website.

http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/52575

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DELAY – DENY – DIE