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…

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?

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…

*****

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?

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 15/01/19 – Irish Air Corps – State Claims Agency Bonus Pay

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 217

To ask the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 146 of 18 December 2018, if the National Treasury Management Agency will provide a breakdown of all discretionary performance related payments in tabular form (details supplied); the highest discretionary performance related payments made to a single employee in each of the years 2006 to 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Details Supplied- Email sent 07/01/19 at 14:57) to include the details of discretionary performance-related payments for the following years 2006 to 2012 inclusive to include the overall total amount of remuneration and the number of employees per year that shared extra remuneration; and if the NTMA will indicate the highest discretionary performance-related payments made to a single employee in each years. 1179/19

Paschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)

The response to the deputy is set out in the table.

YearTotal Bonus PayNumber of Benefiting EmployeesAverage per Benefiting EmployeeHighest Individual Bonus Pay
2006€2,807,229116€24,200
€377,000
2007€3,165,551138€22,939
€403,000
2008€3,459,751161€21,489€395,500
2009€2,751,361167€16,475€200,000
2010€1,981,760258€6,945€40,000
2011€62,6105€12,522€30,000
2012€43,1006€7,183€25,000

Notes

  • In respect of the years 2006-2010, the details provided have been compiled by the NTMA following the retrieval and review of available historical hard-copy documentation.
  • Details of the total amount paid in discretionary performance related pay along with the number of staff in receipt of these payments have been published in the NTMA Annual Report for the years 2010 to 2017 (the NTMA’s most recent Annual Report).

*****

State Claims Agency audited the Health & Safety Management Systems of the Irish Air Corps for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority intervened to prevent serious ongoing harm to Air Corps personnel. 

Over the course of this decade of auditing, the “risk profile” of the Irish Air Corps improved year on year. These “paperwork” improvements in risk profile were subsequently part of the remuneration process for personnel in the State Claims Agency and the National Treasury Management Agency

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann – Public Accounts Committee – 08/11/18

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

I will move on to another area regarding the State Claims Agency. It relates to the Air Corps. The Air Corps used to hold information in relation to health and safety. Deputy Ó Snodaigh looked for information and stated it was misplaced. Subsequently, there was a court case. There were some whistleblowers. The State Claims Agency stated that no admission was made that the defendants exposed the plaintiff to dangerous chemicals or solvents, and that is the nub of what it relates to.

The State Claims Agency stated that it could confidently claim that there were no injuries due to any act or omission on its part and yet there was no documentation that could provide that confidence. Subsequently, there was a report, the O’Toole report, which stated that the records to demonstrate health and safety compliance are not readily available.

In such a situation where there is the absence of information, how can the State Claims Agency state it can confidently predict or state something when records were not available?

Mr. Ciarán Breen (State Claims Agency)

I apologise Chairman, I did not realise we were going to examine the general indemnity scheme. Generally, I am vaguely familiar with the particular case. While I do not have the exact facts or recollection of it, I am guessing that the reason we confidently stated what we did was either because of where the person was working or we had come to an independent view informed by the Air Corps around those liability issues. I really cannot put it further than that.

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

Could Mr. Breen follow up with a note on it?

 

Mr. Ciarán Breen (State Claims Agency)

I will certainly. Maybe afterwards, the Deputy might give me the name of the case and I will follow it up.

 

*****

The State Claims Agency were aware from late 2013 / early 2014 that the Health &  Safety failings at Baldonnel were in fact an “ongoing” issue and not just a “legacy” issue and failed to intervene by requesting the services of the HSA to protect Air Corps personnel. It took the actions of whistle-blowers at the end of 2015 before the HSA intervened in 2016 to improve Air Corps Health & Safety. 

The State Claims Agency Risk Management branch had been carrying out “Safety Management Systems” audits of the Irish Air Corps, in selected units and at formation level, for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene to protect personnel from ongoing CMR chemical exposures in 2016.

The NTMA 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.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

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 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