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?

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

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.

 

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. 

PDFORRA to help Air Corps whistleblower facing dismissal

PDFORRA, the organisation representing enlisted Defence Forces members, says it will assist the Air Corps whistleblower facing dismissal next month.

The staff member, who is facing dismissal for “chronic ineffectivity” due to anxiety and a “work-related industrial dispute”, previously met with Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe to allege that an Air Corps official ordered the shredding of health-and-safety inspection reports detailing conditions at Casement Aerodrome.

The man was the second person to make the allegation, following a protected disclosure from another whistleblower which claimed that a named official ordered the destruction of the documents.

The State is facing legal action from a number of former Air Corps technicians, who claim their chronic illnesses were caused by exposure to toxic chemicals at Casement Aerodrome.

It has been alleged that the inspection reports will show the Defence Forces knew since the 1990s its safety measures were not up to standard, and that they were destroyed as part of a cover-up within the Air Corps. A spokesperson for PDFORRA said it will assist the whistleblower to ensure his rights under the Protected Disclosure Act are vindicated.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Minister of state for defence to probe whistle blower dismissal claim

Minister of state for defence Paul Kehoe has said he has written to the Defence Forces seeking a report on claims that an Air Corps whistle-blower is facing dismissal and that documents key to legal cases against the State were deliberately shredded.

The Irish Examiner recently reported that two separate whistle-blowers told Mr Kehoe that a Defence Forces official ordered the destruction of health and safety reports that showed that the Air Corps’ management of the use of hazardous chemicals was lacking.

On Monday, this newspaper revealed that one of these whistle-blowers is now facing dismissal from the Defence Forces.

In the Dáil yesterday, Mr Kehoe confirmed he was informed of the allegations.

“Certain allegations were made that the documents were destroyed,” Mr Kehoe confirmed.

“I have requested a report from the Chief of Staff on the actions taken on foot of the accusation. When the report is to hand I will consider what further steps may be required to take.

“I didn’t destroy any reports, nor am I aware of anyone destroying any reports but I have asked the Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces to investigate this matter, to find out about these reports and what happened them and to the reasons why they are not kept on record in the Defence Forces.

“Regarding the individual in the Defence Forces and a dismissal, I only became aware of this, I don’t want to say an exact date, but I’ve asked for a report on that issue.”

Mr Kehoe angrily rejected opposition party suggestions that the Government has been slow to address the matter.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website

Calls for probe into Defence Forces inspection records

The Government is coming under increased pressure to launch an investigation into missing Defence Forces inspection reports which were allegedly destroyed.

he calls for an independent probe follow reports in the Irish Examiner which revealed that junior defence minister Paul Kehoe has ruled out any investigation into the disappearance of health and safety reports from the air corps, despite being told by a whistle-blower the documents were deliberately shredded.

The State is being sued by six former air corps members who claim their chronic illnesses were caused by their exposure to toxic chemicals while working as technicians in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnell.

The missing safety reports date back to the 1990s when all six allegedly injured air corps members worked in Baldonnel.

Despite both the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence saying the reports cannot be found, opposition politicians claim to have had sight of the documents and say that they raise concerns as to the management of the working environment in Casement Aerodrome.

Yesterday, this newspaper revealed that, in April, Mr Kehoe received a protected disclosure alleging that a named official ordered the shredding of the documents.

Despite this, Mr Kehoe last week told Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh that he could only offer “speculative” reasons as to why the reports are missing and ruled out an inquiry into their disappearance.

Responding to this newspaper’s report yesterday, Fianna Fáil defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said allegations the reports were deliberately destroyed in order to cover up knowledge of health and safety concerns were “extremely serious”.

“The suggestion from the minister that the reports in question, which are from different inspection periods and from different reporting years, have vanished and that this is somehow due to change over to an electronic system or documents were misplaced over time is difficult to believe,” she said.

Read more on the Irish Examiner website