State faces seventh Irish Army Air Corps action

The State is facing a further High Court action from a former member of the Defence Forces allegedly suffering chronic ill-health due to exposure to chemicals in the Air Corps.

The disclosure of a seventh case came in the Dáil yesterday, where opposition politicians said the Government’s response to a growing health scandal over the past year was like ‘Groundhog Day’ in its repetition and inaction.

Last year, the Irish Examiner revealed six former Defence Forces members were suing the State over chronic health issues. A medical expert had advised that the health complaints were as a result of working conditions at Casement Aerodrome.

This newspaper also revealed how a number of whistleblowers had warned the Government that the Air Corps’ management of chemical exposure was inadequate, a claim vindicated after an inspection by the Health and Safety Authority.

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe yesterday confirmed a seventh case. He denied claims there had been a cover-up within the Defence Forces to hide the extent of its knowledge of conditions in Baldonnell Aerodrome.

“The Minister of State seems, somehow, to be suggesting that his inaction is to serve the interests of those affected,” said Fianna Fáil defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers.

“Minister, this particular issue is a little bit like Groundhog Day; we continue to ask questions, myself and others, and we continue to get the same stock response.

Sinn Féin defence spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh called for a health survey of Air Corps members to determine whether they are more at risk of serious illness.

“All the O’Toole report dealt with was whether the procedures were in place to deal with whistleblowers. This is not about the whistleblowers or the cases before the courts at the moment,” he said.

“The State is fighting them tooth and nail and I think it is on the losing side. If those are set aside, there are quite a number of other members who gave service to this State, through the Air Corps, who are suffering catastrophic health problems.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Attempts to dismiss serving Air Corps whistleblower on medical grounds ‘not a disciplinary procedure’

JUNIOR MINISTER FOR Defence Paul Kehoe has said that attempts to dismiss a serving Air Corps whistleblower was not a disciplinary matter but was instead a way to ensure the long term health and safety of the member as well as the Defence Forces as a whole.

In the last 12 months, at least six former members of the Defence Forces have started legal proceedings against the State, alleging that they were exposed to toxic levels of chemicals and that a lack of protective equipment has left them with lifelong illnesses.

One of those whistleblowers was brought before St Bricin’s Military Hospital on Wednesday for a check-up. As things stand, he has not been dismissed on medical grounds.

Sinn Féín’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who has been following the case closely, said the man in question appeared before a medical hearing yesterday morning for the very reason he met the Minister of State – “that there was something rotten in the Air Corps in terms of health and safety, as he and other whistleblowers had outlined”.

Ó Snodaigh told the Dáíl: “His medical condition and others are directly related to mass exposure to highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.”In the last year, TheJournal.ie has reported on a number of elements on this whistleblower case.

Read full article on The Journal website below…

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PDFORRA will back Air Corps whistleblower at hearing

The organisation representing enlisted members of the Defence Forces says it will support the Air Corps whistleblower who is facing possible dismissal at a Medical Board hearing today.

The whistleblower, who has made protected disclosures to Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe, is accused by military superiors of “chronic ineffectivity” due to anxiety and a “work- related industrial dispute”.

He had raised concerns surrounding workers’ exposure to the cancer-causing chemicals used by the Air Corps in cleaning and servicing its aircraft.

A subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Authority led to the HSA threatening the Air Corps with legal action unless it implemented its recommendations. The whistleblower also alleged that earlier inspections at Casement Aerodrome in the 1990s produced reports raising concerns with the environment at the Air Corps HQ — and that these documents were destroyed.

In one protected disclosure he wrote that he was the victim of “defamatory allegations” by an official within the Air Corps which the whistleblower believes “was in effect an attempt to rebuke and intimate me, for highlighting genuine safety concerns”.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Damning silence from political class as whistleblower faces the sack

As the country teeters on the precipice of a snap election over the mistreatment of whistleblower Maurice McCabe, another man who spoke up about wrongs within the public service is facing the sack from the Defence Forces — without a whisper from the majority of the political class.

Tomorrow a whistleblower who spoke out about his concerns for the health of those using cancer-causing chemicals to service the State’s fleet of aircraft is facing potential discharge from the Air Corps.

His charge? “Generalised anxiety disorder and work-related industrial dispute resulting in chronic ineffectivity,” according to the report issued ahead of the Medical Board hearing.

In January 2016, this whistleblower wrote a protected disclosure in which the alleged he was victim to “defamatory allegations” by an official within the Air Corps which the whistle-blower believes “was in effect an attempt to rebuke and intimate me, for highlighting genuine safety concerns”.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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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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Dáil Éireann Written Answers 11/10/17 – Department of Defence – Air Corps

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 199

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he will take in view of the recognition in a review (details supplied) of Air Corps whistleblower claims that the author was not in a position to consider the substances in use or implications for human health arising from such use as these issues are outside their competence. [43179/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 200

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a comprehensive inquiry will take place into the health and safety regime in the Air Corps and compliance with that regime in a period stretching back over 20 years in view of a review (details supplied). [43180/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 201

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he will take in view of the description of a review (details supplied) by its own author as an informal review; and if a formal review will now take place. [43181/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 202

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he will take in view of the finding of a review (details supplied) by its own author that it is their view that a review of the kind envisaged by the terms of reference is impractical and therefore they can only comment in general terms on the safety regime; the way in which he plans to deal with this identified impracticality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43182/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 203

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the observation in a review (details supplied) that, in the context of a work environment subject to military discipline in which obedience to the instructions of a superior is a key requirement, there are obvious difficulties for a person raising safety concerns; his further views on the view of the informants in this matter that they were not able adequately to raise safety concerns and that when they did raise concerns these were ignored; and the action that will be taken to address the difficulties and concerns of the informants. [43183/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 204

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the observation in a review that the Defence Forces need to be able to demonstrate that an adequate system is in place to ensure that safety concerns can be raised by a member of any rank and to show that it has an ethos which makes safety the concern and responsibility of all; and the action he will take to achieve this. [43184/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 205

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the observation in a review (details supplied) that the military authorities need to ensure that the role of the Health and Safety Authority in relation to workplace safety is understood and that there is an effective system in place to enable persons to raise safety concerns. [43185/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 206

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the military authorities ensure that documentation and records detailing compliance with safety regimes exist and that they are readily accessible to staff as per the observation in a review (details supplied). [43186/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 207

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will authorise an independent and comprehensive health assessment of the informants’ claims and of Defence Forces health and safety records in dealing with hazardous chemicals over the past 25 years. [43187/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 208

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he will take in view of the recognition in a review (details supplied) of Air Corps whistleblower claims that the author was not in a position to judge whether there is now or was at the relevant time an actual level of exposure which was in fact potentially harmful. [43188/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 209

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he will take in view of the observation in a review (details supplied) of Air Corps whistleblower claims that all Defence Forces personnel are supposed to receive a routine medical at regular intervals but there appears to have been no special provision for personnel involved in maintenance work or a special alert in relation to persons that may have handled toxic chemicals. [43189/17]

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

QUESTION NO: 210

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he will take in view of the observation in a review (details supplied) of Air Corps whistleblower claims that risk assessment material which the author saw are not comprehensive enough to provide a clear view of the basis for the assessment made. [43190/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 199 to 210, inclusive, together.

I have made it clear that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a priority for me and therefore, I ensured that protected disclosures alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps in Baldonnel were investigated by an independent third party. I have furnished the report to those who made the protected disclosures and, before considering any further steps, I will await their views. In light of this and given that some of the allegations relate to matters that are the subject of litigation, commenced before the protected disclosures were made, it would not be appropriate to comment further.

Separately and in parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps has continued to work with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to improve its health and safety regime. I have been informed by the military authorities that the HSA has formally noted the considerable progress made to-date by the Defence Forces towards implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances. Subject to completion of the improvement plan the HSA investigation is closed. However, 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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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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Dáil Éireann – Priority Question 28 – 18th October 2017

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

28. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he plans to take on foot of the recent review (details supplied) of Air Corps whistle-blower claims; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44189/17]

 

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.

Call for Commission of Investigation into Air Corps claims

The Government is facing calls to establish a Commission of Investigation into whistleblower claims against the Air Corps, after the terms of an independent report into the allegations were branded ‘farcical’ by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

The Air Corps stands accused of failing to protect its technicians from the effects of cancer-causing chemicals, with whistleblowers claiming that decades of neglect has had a devastating effect on the health of members of the Defence Forces.

Yesterday, the Irish Examiner revealed that Christopher O’Toole, the author of an independent review of the allegations, said the terms of reference he was given for this probe were “impractical”, and that elements of the allegations made were issues outside his expertise.

Mr O’Toole also found that records demonstrating the Air Corps’ compliance with health and safety regulations “are not readily available”.

Whistleblowers had previously alleged that inspection records dating back to the 1990s were deliberately destroyed because they had raised concerns, but both the Government and the Defence Forces deny the claim, and say the reports in question were mislaid over time.

Mr Martin said he believes a Commission of Investigation is necessary: “The situation is far from satisfactory because with his opening comments the report’s author is essentially saying he cannot fulfill the terms of reference. From the Government’s point of view they established this review, they must have known the terms of reference could not be fulfilled. It’s farcical.”

“It seems to me there are no records of compliance with health regulations, which is very, very serious because in their absence one has to conclude that the probability is they were not complied with.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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