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

Whistleblower feels ‘left out on a limb’ by minister

An Air Corps whistleblower, leaving the Defence Forces, feels “left out on a limb” by the minister to whom he appealed for help, the Dáil has heard.

Last month, the Irish Examiner revealed that the serving member wrote to the Defence Forces chief of staff to inform him of a decision to retire early over what was claimed was the authority’s failure to protect him from persecution as a result of concerns he had raised.

Last November, the whistleblower wrote to Paul Kehoe, the junior defence minister, complaining of the “unwarranted treatment” he had received after submitting a protected disclosure on health and safety issues.

The whistleblower is one of a number who has raised concerns over Air Corps staff exposure to cancer-causing chemicals while servicing and maintaining aircraft. The State is fighting seven personal injury cases being taken by former Air Corps members suffering chronic illnesses they say were caused by exposure suffered during their service.

The whistleblower’s early retirement was raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley, who asked Mr Kehoe what action, if any, he had taken on receiving correspondence from the member last November.

Mr Buckley said: “No action was taken on foot of a letter dated 28 November 2018 appealing for the Minister of State’s intervention and asking what protection he was giving to this serving member at the time. What actions were taken on foot of the original protected disclosure?

Mr Kehoe said he would leave the matter in the hands of the Ombudsman. “I will not stand over anybody being wronged. I encourage the person to whom the deputy is referring to go to the Defence Forces Ombudsman. He or she may have done so but I assure the deputy the case will be dealt with in an independent and fair way. The ombudsman provides that facility in an independent way.”

Unfortunately, this person has left the service because of the way he has been treated. He believes he has been let down. He has served his country with distinction. He thought he was doing the right thing by disclosing what was going on but he is now in a position where he cannot keep his job which will affect him in many other ways.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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The last thing Minister Kehoe wants is more whistle-blowers feeling it is safe to make further protected disclosures about wrongdoing at the Irish Air Corps. By “passing the buck” Minister Kehoe’s non intervention is allowing the ongoing victimisation of of Air Corps personnel.

Said ombudsman will probably be invited to visit Baldonnel and then wined & dined in the Officers Mess by the perpertrators of the greatest workplace health & safety tragedy in modern Irish history.

That is of course unless he hasn’t been invited already.

Delay – Deny – Die

Case over chemical exposure at Casement dismissed

A case taken against the State by a former maintenance worker who claims his illnesses were caused by his exposure to chemicals while in the Air Corps has been dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.

The case saw legal representatives acting on behalf of former Air Corps member Ian Coughlan at odds with the State as to when Mr Coughlan was first aware that his medical complaints may have been connected to his exposure to chemicals in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

Mr Coughlan has suffered or continues to experience skin rashes, sleep disturbance, fatigue, mood changes, occasional bloody diarrhoea, skin and eye discolouration, and short-term memory loss. He began proceedings against the State in 2013.

His personal injury summons against the State alleged 24 instances of negligence and breach of duty. He alleged the Air Corps failed to provide him with a safe system of work, appropriate training for the safe handling of the chemicals he was required to work with, and that proper safety measures to protect him from the ill-effects of the chemicals were not implemented.

Mr Coughlan brought his legal challenge within months of receiving the opinion of toxicopathologist professor Vyvyan Howard, who said he believed his ongoing medical complaints were as a direct result of his exposure to chemicals while working in Casement Aerodrome.

However, the State argued Mr Coughlan’s claim was statute barred as he was aware of a potential connection more than two years before he commenced legal action. It said discussions in medical examinations around Mr Coughlan’s handling of chemicals while he was serving in the Air Corps meant he possessed the requisite knowledge to bring a case between 2007 and 2009 — at least four years before he began legal action.

However, in a sworn affidavit, Mr Coughlan said at no time during that period was he advised his symptoms and illnesses were related to his working environment.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Despite Mr. Coughlan having no evidence to bring a case against the state until 2013, Mr Justice Meenan said Mr Coughlan should have brought the case against the State by 2011 at the latest.

Delay – Deny – Die

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?

Delay – Deny – Die

Irish Air Corps whistle-blower claims death toll from chemical-linked illnesses surpasses 72

A MAN WHO is taking the State to court over his time in the Air Corps believes 72 of his colleagues died prematurely, linking their deaths to alleged chemical exposure at work.

The recent death of a former airman has brought the alleged death toll to 72, according to the whistle-blower.

He also alleges that:

  • 72 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980
  • 59 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 36 of these deaths have occurred since 2010

The whistle-blower is claiming that the State neglected health and safety rules and exposed himself and his fellow workers to seriously harmful levels of toxic chemicals. This continues to be strongly contested by the State.

The whistle-blowers in this case alleges there was a disregard for the safety of young Air Corps members. According to an online resource created for those who believe they were affected by the chemical exposure, there was:

  • No meaningful chemical risk assessments.
  • No risk specific health surveillance
  • No Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) issued
  • No chemical health and safety training whatsoever
  • No reporting of health and safety incidents
  • No follow up of unusual illnesses by medical personnel
  • Ignoring dangerous air quality reports
  • Personnel doused in toxic chemicals as pranks (hazing) incidents
  • Highly toxic chemicals disposed of onsite in an unsafe manner

Read full article on The Journal website below…

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).

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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 Written Answers 15/01/19 – Irish Air Corps – State Claims Agency

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 133

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the health and safety management system reports and or audits carried out on the Air Corps by the State Claims Agency in each of the years 2006 to 2015; the year and author of each report and or audit in the timeframe; if the reports have been published and or classified as confidential; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 1180/19

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I am advised by the State Claims Agency that it has a statutory remit under the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000 to provide risk management advices to Delegated State Authorities. Such risk management advices include the provision of Health & Safety Management System audits, inspections and reviews.

From this, State Claims Agency conducted a number of Health & Safety Management System Defence Forces audits within the Air Corps between the years 2006 – 2015. The Reports are authored by the State Claims Agency and are confidential between the Agency and their Client.

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The State Claims Agency audited the Irish Air Corps for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene and stop the ongoing CMR & toxic chemical exposure of the Baldonnel workforce.

The HSA file was opened in January 2016 and was only closed in September 2018 but the “superb” health and safety performance of the Air Corps for the decade prior to HSA intervention helped the State Claims Agency & NTMA staff earn discretionary performance-related payments.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 18/12/18 – Department of Finance – State Claims Agency Bonus Pay

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 146

To ask the Minister for Finance if staff at the State Claims Agency receive discretionary performance related payments; the amount paid to staff from 2006 to date; if these payments related to particular projects and or audits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 53022/18

Paschal Donohoe  (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)

When performing its statutory functions regarding claims against the State, the National Treasury Management Agency is known as the State Claims Agency.

The NTMA have informed me that discretionary performance-related payments are intended to reward 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 NTMA have also informed me that it provides details of performance related payments made each year to all NTMA staff in its annual reports which are available on the NTMAs website through the following link

http://www.ntma.ie/publications

*****

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 18/12/18 – Irish Air Corps – State Claims Agency Audits

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 119

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the State Claims Agency supplied the Health and Safety Authority with copies of its audits and or reports regarding the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. 53026/18

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I have been advised by the State Claims Agency that it does not provide reports of Health and Safety Management System Audits conducted by the Agency in Delegated State Authorities (including the Defence Forces) to the Health and Safety Authority. I am advised that these are provided to the Delegated State Authorities only.

With regard to the Air Corps, the Deputy will be aware that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), following a number of inspections in 2016, issued a Report of Inspection to the Air Corps on the 21st October 2016, listing 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 is being conducted over eight phases. Seven of the eight phases have now been fully completed. The final phase is a continuous on-going process. The implementation plan focuses on a number of areas, including risk assessment.

I wish to assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the Defence Forces personnel is a high priority for me and the military authorities.

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For 10 years BEFORE the Heath & Safety Authority were forced to investigate the Irish Air Corps, due to the ongoing safety risks to personnel, the State Claims Agency had been carrying out Health & Safety Risk Management System audits at Baldonnel. 

In the eyes of the State Claims Agency the Irish Air Corps risk profile was continuously improving whilst personnel on the ground were still being exposed to toxic & CMR chemicals without appropriate PPE or training causing lifelong injures to themselves and their children. 

It is now obvious that the State Claims Agency audits were incompetent  especially considering it took the Health & Safety Authority 2 years and 9 months to close their investigation file on the Irish Air Corps.

The State Claims Agency audits need to be released to the Oireachtas without delay.

DELAY – DENY – DIE