Army officer’s case over report resolved after High Court proceedings withdrawn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report into his allegations of corruption and misconduct within the military has been resolved, and the case withdrawn.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

Dáil Debates Other Questions 17/1/19 – Defence Forces Equipment

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 11

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if all Defence Forces and Air Corps officers are trained in the use of respirators and-or breathing apparatus in the context of handling chemicals and toxic material; if the use of same is now mandatory; and the date on which it became mandatory. [1803/19]

This question relates to the change in the health and safety regime brought about in recent years because of disclosures from whistle-blowers, which have led to changes in health and safety in the Air Corps in particular. Are all Defence Forces and Air Corps officers trained in the use of respirators and breathing apparatus in the context of handling chemicals and toxic material which, in the past, were wrongly handled and possibly exposed people to poisoning and ill-health?

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I am advised by the military authorities that all members of the Defence Forces are trained in the fitting of the general service respirator as part of their basic training and that tests of elementary training are conducted annually in a respirator test facility. This training is in keeping with chemical, biological, radioactive and neurological (WTF?) training that all Defence Forces personnel undergo following basic training.

I am further advised by the military authorities that only those Defence Forces personnel who are required to work with chemicals and toxins are required to undergo respiratory protective equipment training. Such training is provided to members of the Defence Forces in accordance with the relevant health and safety legislation.

With regard to the Air Corps, I am advised that it uses two types of respiratory protective equipment depending on the type of activity being carried out. These are respirators, which are air purifying, and breathing apparatus, through which air is supplied. I am advised that personnel who require respiratory protective equipment training are trained as necessary.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

I welcome the Minister of State’s statement but part of the question was when did it become mandatory. The final part of the reply seems to suggest that not all Air Corps personnel are trained in the use of respirators. When exactly did it become mandatory for all Defence Force personnel to have this training? Is the training in full use currently?

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

With regard to the Air Corps, I am surprised that people who specifically deal with chemicals are trained in the wearing of respirators only if they are involved in dealing with these types of chemicals. Full training is given to these people and they undergo relevant retraining to ensure they are fully trained.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

The question is when that happened.

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I do not have a specific date but to my knowledge full training is carried out in line with what is required. I will come back to the Deputy with a specific date.

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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.

 

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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 Written Answers 06/11/18 – Department of Defence Health and Safety

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 124

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he has taken or plans to take on foot of the O’Toole Report which has been sent to the whistle-blowers 12 months ago and feedback received a number of months ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter 45046/18.

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The State Claims Agency is currently managing 7 claims taken by former and current members of the Air Corps for personal injuries alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps.

Three written disclosures were made, in November and December 2015 and January 2016, under the provisions of section 8 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, relating to alleged failings in the Defence Organisation in the area of Health and Safety. Legal advice was sought on how best to progress certain disclosures as elements related to matters which are the subject of the ongoing litigation. I appointed an independent reviewer to examine the disclosures.

Following receipt of the report of the independent reviewer, I invited the views of those who had made the disclosures and published the report. I also sent the report to the Chief of Staff for the views and actions of the military authorities to be set out. In parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps had 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.

I am considering the responses I received from the parties and legal advice in the context of ongoing active litigation before deciding on the next steps to be taken….blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 18 men dead since Minister for Defence first notified minister considering report for a year now. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

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…

Delay – Deny – Die

Air Corps scandal still some way from touching down

In a series of articles across 2017, the Irish Examiner revealed serious concerns about the working environment within the Air Corps — matters that have seen allegations of a deliberate cover-up, of victimisation of whistleblowers, and of a lackadaisical attitude towards health and safety that has put lives at risk, writes Joe Leogue.

While the stories broken by this newspaper since January have posed a myriad of questions for the State and the Defence Forces, the issues have one common controversy running throughout.

Have technicians within the Air Corps developed cancer, neurological problems, and other chronic conditions as a result of unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals during their time at Casement Aerodrome?

WARNING  – Very long article reviewing the following topics.

  • The Court Cases
  • The Whistleblowers
  • The Health Watchdog Inspections – Vindication for the Whistleblowers
  • The Internal Report
  • The Missing Reports – And allegations of a Cover-Up
  • The Independent Review
  • The International Precedents
  • The Political Reaction

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann – Questions from Opposition Leaders or their representatives to the Government – 30th November 2017

Defence admit another 12 sites “contaminated by toxic chemicals”

The Australian Defence Force has admitted its problem with toxic chemicals leaking from its bases is much bigger than first thought.

Another 12 ADF sites have been added to the original six investigated, causing more worry for the personnel who work there as well as the locals living nearby.

Defence Force widow Kristen Russell remembers the moment her partner Greg Lukes was diagnosed with kidney cancer at just 33 years old. Two years later, the father of two young children was dead.

“He was one of those people that went to the gym everyday, ate all the right things, never smoked, never drank. It was a shock that somebody like him could get that type of cancer,” Mrs Russell told 7 News.

Petty Officer Lukes served at HMAS Albatross in Nowra, working on Sea King helicopters. The ADF believes exposure to a number of chemicals related to the choppers was the likely cause of his deadly disease.

There is now further concern about chemicals known as preflourinated compounds used in firefighting foams at that base, among many others.

Petty Officer Luke’s widow has called on the ADF to “release the truth. If it’s happened, it’s happened. Let’s get it out there and move forward,” she said.

The ADF has already launched detailed investigations into six sites including HMAS Albatross.

On Tuesday it released a report revealing chemicals were found in the soil or ground water at another 12 bases. The sites include three in NSW, two in Queensland, two in Victoria, one in Western Australia and three in the NT. Lawyers are already preparing for class actions.

Read read article & watch related video by following link below.