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?

Army officer’s case over report resolved after High Court proceedings withdrawn

A High Court action by a senior army officer over the State’s refusal to provide him with an independent report into his allegations of corruption and misconduct within the military has been resolved, and the case withdrawn.

The action was brought by the Defence Forces Head of Legal Services Colonel Jerry Lane against the Minister for Defence, Ireland and the Attorney General.

When the case commenced this week, the court heard the proceedings arose over concerns raised by Col Lane several years ago that preferential treatment was being afforded to another member of the Defence Forces to the detriment of other members.

Counsel said in 2010, his client attempted to raise the issue of the other officer’s alleged preferential treatment through the chain of military command, but claimed that nothing was done.

Col Lane’s concerns were that the other officer was selected for, but ultimately did not get, a senior position which Col Lane claimed the other person was ineligible for.

Col Lane, from Bandon, Co Cork, made a protected disclosure to members of Seanad Éireann regarding his concerns which were raised in the Seanad in 2011.

Arising out of the disclosure, he claims he was subjected to a range of penalties, including threats of dismissal and involuntary retirement from the Defence Forces, but those threats were subsequently set aside.

Air Corps whistleblower’s decision to retire “demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process”

The Irish Examiner revealed today that the whistle-blower – one of three who has previously raised concerns about staff’s exposure to chemicals – has announced his decision to retire early.

His decision comes two months after telling Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe that he has not received assurances from Defence Forces hierarchy that he is not being targeted for making protected disclosures.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said a list of deaths compiled by one Air Corps whistle-blower requires explanation.

The list, the existence of which was previously reported in this newspaper, contains the details of more than 70 deaths of former Air Corps staff that the whistle-blower believes may be connected to chemical exposures at the force’s headquarters in Casement Aerodrome.

She described the revelation that a whistle-blower is to retire early as ‘shocking’.

“I’m very concerned about the treatment of whistle-blowers and people making disclosures, as some arms of the public service are not dealing with them as comprehensively or fairly as they should,” Ms Murphy said.

Fianna Fáil Defence spokesman, Jack Chambers, said the whistle-blower’s decision “demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process” and will act as a deterrent to anyone else who is thinking about coming forward.

“This is symptomatic of the general malaise that has been allowed to fester within the Defence Forces under the current Minister. Whistle-blowers who feel that their only next option is to retire demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process and it certainly doesn’t encourage others who have issues of concern from engaging with the process.”

Air corps whistleblower was ‘isolated, vilified’

An air corps whistle-blower has written to the Defence Forces Chief of Staff to inform him of his decision to retire early over what he has claimed is the authority’s failure to protect him.

The decision comes two months after the whistle-blower wrote to junior defence minister Paul Kehoe complaining of the “unwarranted treatment” he has received since he submitted a protected disclosure on health-and-safety issues.

In this communication with Mr Kehoe, the whistle blower included signed statements from two air corps personnel, the contents of which, he said, were evidence of an attempt by those in authority to “isolate and vilify” him and turn his colleagues against him.

He is one of three whistle blowers to make complaints about the chemical exposure suffered by air corps maintenance staff, the details of which were first revealed by the Irish Examiner two years ago.

The commanding officer further pointed to previous complaints made against him by the whistle-blower, which he said constitutes “a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour” against him.

The commanding officer further pointed to previous complaints made against him by the whistle-blower, which he said constitutes “a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour” against him.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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If said commanding officer felt he was targeted by a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour by a subordinate the Defence Forces have measures in place to deal with such behaviour through military law.

If the commanding officer didn’t act to use existing disciplinary mechanisms against his subordinate why did he introduce such complaints when he himself was being investigated? 

Delay – Deny – Die

Protest by ex-Air Corps personnel targets Minister Paul Kehoe

A group of former air corps personnel say they will campaign against junior defence minister Paul Kehoe’s re-election in his Wexford constituency in protest at his response to health and safety issues within the force.

The group, Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors, picketed outside Mr Kehoe’s constituency office in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, on Saturday, and have claimed that 19 of their former colleagues have died since whistle-blowers raised concerns three years ago.

Seven former air corps technicians are suing the State, alleging that their exposure to toxic solvents in the course of their duties has caused them to suffer from chronic illnesses including cancer.

“Both the Minister for Defence, Leo Varadkar, and the minister of state with responsibility for defence, Paul Kehoe, have failed to offer medical help to save the lives and ease the suffering of Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors and apparently believe the best place to get medical help is via the High Court,” said the protest group in a statement.

“In the meantime the State Claims Agency is doing all in its power to prevent cases of injured Air Corps personnel from reaching court in order to hide their own negligence.”

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.

 

Air Corps chemicals safety system ‘deficient’

The safety management of chemical hazards within the Air Corps was “significantly less developed than expected” when inspected in 2016, according to an internal report by the health watchdog.

The document is the latest to raise questions about historic conditions within the Air Corps base at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, amid whistle-blower allegations and personal injury claims taken against the State by former personnel who now suffer chronic illnesses.

In late 2015, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) received complaints by former and serving members of the Air Corps, who had claimed personnel were not being adequately trained or being protected from the effects of the cancer-causing chemicals used to service aircraft.

The HSA inspected the site and then wrote to the Air Corps to threaten legal action against the force unless its recommended improvements were implemented, as previously reported by the Irish Examiner.

These recommendations included providing gloves, eye protection, and respirators to those using toxic chemicals, and the monitoring of personnel’s health.

While the HSA has since closed the case and said the Air Corps has implemented its recommendations, a review of the case, released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals further criticism of conditions in Baldonnel at the time of the inspection.

“However the safety management system for control of chemical hazards was noted to be significantly less developed than would be expected for an organisation of the size and resources of the Air Corps,” the HSA inspector noted in his review.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Department of Defence coy on probe of bullying claims

An air corps whistleblower has been told that it is “difficult to envisage” how the Department of Defence would investigate complaints of bullying made in a protected disclosure about chemical exposure within the force.

The protected disclosure, seen by the Irish Examiner, contains allegations that the whistle-blower was doused in chemicals used to service aircraft as an initiation, and was frequently exposed to chemicals without protective equipment as he carried out his duties in the Engine Shop at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

He alleges that he became ill while still serving in the air corps, but was targeted by superiors for his frequent absences due to sickness.

His complaints match those of a number of other whistleblowers, and the State is currently facing at least seven separate legal actions from former air corps staff who claim they are chronically ill due to their exposure to chemicals at Casement Aerodrome.

A Government-commissioned report by former civil servant Christopher O’Toole into earlier whistleblower disclosures found there was no documentation available to demonstrate that the air corps met its health and safety obligations.

The latest whistleblower called on the Government to launch a fresh review into the complaints about conditions in Casement Aerodrome, and asked that his allegations of bullying be considered as part of this probe.

“My allegations need to be investigated in full as part of a wider investigation into the air corps chemical exposure scandal and the subsequent bullying and mistreatment of personnel injured by the same chemical exposure,” states the whistle blower.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

No response to latest Air Corps whistleblower claim

The Government has not responded to a new protected disclosure on chemical exposures within the Air Corps.

The disclosure was made by a whistleblower, who says he is chronically ill, due to his experiences at Casement Aerodrome, the Irish Examiner can reveal.

The protected disclosure, seen by this newspaper, was submitted to the Department of Defence last December, but the whistleblower has not been contacted since, bar an acknowledgement that his disclosure was received.

In the December 2017 disclosure, the former member of staff echoes previous submissions to the Government. He says he was doused in chemicals by other recruits colleagues, as an initiation, and was frequently exposed to various chemicals as part of his duties in the engine shop at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

He alleges that he became ill while still serving in the Air Corps, but was bullied and mistreated by superiors for his frequent absences, due to illnesses he believes were caused by his working environment.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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]

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