First year anniversary of formally asking Cathal Berry TD for assistance seeking medical intervention for injured Irish Air Corps chemical exposure survivors? Still NO response!

10th June 2021

Still awaiting a response from Cathal Berry TD exactly a year to the day from writing to him.

Apparently he is not so #CredibleCompetentCaring after all.

10th January 2021

Dear Deputy Berry,

Exactly six months ago on the 10th of June 2020, I  wrote a registered letter to you asking for your assistance obtaining medical interventions for chronically ill Irish Air Corps personnel in an effort to reduce unnecessary suffering & untimely deaths.

I am disappointed that after six months I have had absolutely no response or follow up to this letter, not even an basic acknowledgement of receipt.

As a former Defence Forces officer and as a medical doctor I hoped that you were best placed to both understand & champion in the Oireachtas the best interests of those suffering a multitude of health effects from decades of unprotected toxic chemical exposure in what HSA inspectors told me was “the worst case of chemical misuse in the history of the state”.

As I have not heard from you I can only assume that I was wrong and that you either simply do not believe there are any health problems suffered by serving & former Air Corps personnel due workplace chemical exposure, or worse still, you acknowledge personnel have been injured but have no interest in helping them.

I would be grateful if you could please reply publicly to this open letter and while doing so could please answer the following.

  1. Do you believe Irish Air Corps survivors when they tell you that the Health & Safety Authority found serious non compliance with the Safety, Health & Welfare At Work Act 2005 in relation to basic chemical health & safety at Casement Aerodrome and that the same HSA threatened prosecution if their “advice” was not complied with?
  2. Do you accept that the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 were enacted by the state to protect workers from injuries and if an organisation failed to implement these same Acts for decades after they were enacted then the likelihood of injury to personnel is increased?
  3. If you do accept that the Irish Air Corps was not in compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 and if you do accept that health and safety legislation is enacted to protect workers can you please explain why you have done nothing publically to raise awareness of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy since you were elected to Dáil Eireann almost 1 year ago and why you have not mentioned it even once in your numerous chamber utterances or press releases.

I look forward to your response, if any.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Tobin
Spokesperson
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors

Please find linked below a copy of my original letter to you and also a copy of the Health & Safety letter to the Air Corps dated October 2016 outlining urgent steps to be taken  threatening legal action if they are ignored. The HSA letter was obtained under FOI.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 01/06/21 – Irish Air Corps leads Defence Forces in WRC complaints & settlements

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 450 – 18th May 2021

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of times action has been taken against the Defence Forces and brought to the Workplace Relations Commission; the number of cases his Department has won, lost or settled out of court; the number that are ongoing by service that is Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in tabular form; the breakdown of the awards paid and settlements; and the legal costs of defending these actions. [26471/21]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) was established on 1st October 2015. Since that date twenty-eight (28) complaints have been made against the Defence Forces, with the Minister for Defence listed as the Respondent in all such cases.

Complaints made may originate from either Defence Forces personnel or civilians (“Others” in the table below). The Chief State Solicitor’s Office is responsible for the State’s legal representation for complaints lodged with the WRC where I am the named Respondent in my capacity as Minister for Defence, and any costs arising from such representation.

A breakdown of these complaints is as follows:

Defence Forces WRC Complaints (Overview)

Total Complaints Lodged Complaints Won - not upheldComplaints Lost-upheldComplaints Settled or WithdrawnAwards /
Settlements*
Ongoing Complaints
285113€162,116.119

* Settlements containing confidentiality clauses are not included.

The origin of each of the nine ongoing complaints is as follows:

Defence Forces WRC Complaints (Ongoing)

ArmyAir CorpsNaval ServiceOther
3312

*****

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 370 – 1st June 2021

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 450 of 18 May 2021, if he will provide a further breakdown in origin for the outstanding Defence Forces Workplace Relations Commission complaints; if he will provide a complete breakdown of the 28 WRC complaints by origin per service, that is, Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in tabular form; and if he will provide a breakdown and further details regarding the other category. [29475/21]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

A complete breakdown of the 28 WRC complaints received by my Department, by origin per service in the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) is as follows:

Defence forces WRC complaints (Full)

Type of ComplaintArmyNaval ServiceAir CorpsOther
Won - not upheld*0132
Lost - upheld0010
Settled or Withdrawn**1
1100
Ongoing3
132
Totals43174

* The correct number of Complaints Won (not upheld) should have read 6 in PQ 26471

** The correct figure for Complaints Settled or Withdrawn should have read 12 in PQ 26471

The category titled “Other” in the table above refers to complaints made to the Workplace Relations Commission by non-PDF members, including members of the Reserve Defence Force and the general public regarding issues concerning the Defence Forces.

*****

DELAY – DENY – DIE

An open letter to Deputy Cathal Berry TD asking why he did not respond to requests for assistance seeking medical help for injured Irish Air Corps chemical exposure survivors?

10th January 2021

Dear Deputy Berry,

Exactly six months ago on the 10th of June 2020, I  wrote a registered letter to you asking for your assistance obtaining medical interventions for chronically ill Irish Air Corps personnel in an effort to reduce unnecessary suffering & untimely deaths.

I am disappointed that after six months I have had absolutely no response or follow up to this letter, not even an basic acknowledgement of receipt.

As a former Defence Forces officer and as a medical doctor I hoped that you were best placed to both understand & champion in the Oireachtas the best interests of those suffering a multitude of health effects from decades of unprotected toxic chemical exposure in what HSA inspectors told me was “the worst case of chemical misuse in the history of the state”.

As I have not heard from you I can only assume that I was wrong and that you either simply do not believe there are any health problems suffered by serving & former Air Corps personnel due workplace chemical exposure, or worse still, you acknowledge personnel have been injured but have no interest in helping them.

I would be grateful if you could please reply publicly to this open letter and while doing so could please answer the following.

  1. Do you believe Irish Air Corps survivors when they tell you that the Health & Safety Authority found serious non compliance with the Safety, Health & Welfare At Work Act 2005 in relation to basic chemical health & safety at Casement Aerodrome and that the same HSA threatened prosecution if their “advice” was not complied with?
  2. Do you accept that the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 were enacted by the state to protect workers from injuries and if an organisation failed to implement these same Acts for decades after they were enacted then the likelihood of injury to personnel is increased?
  3. If you do accept that the Irish Air Corps was not in compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare At Work Acts 1989 & 2005 and if you do accept that health and safety legislation is enacted to protect workers can you please explain why you have done nothing publically to raise awareness of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy since you were elected to Dáil Eireann almost 1 year ago and why you have not mentioned it even once in your numerous chamber utterances or press releases.

I look forward to your response, if any.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Tobin
Spokesperson
Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors

Please find linked below a copy of my original letter to you and also a copy of the Health & Safety letter to the Air Corps dated October 2016 outlining urgent steps to be taken  threatening legal action if they are ignored. The HSA letter was obtained under FOI.

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 08/12/20 – How many Whistle-blowers is the Irish Air Corps currently trying to sack using medical boards?

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 313

To ask the Minister for Defence the number of whistle-blowers the Defence Forces is currently attempting to dismiss using medical boarding procedures; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
[41233/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The term “whistle-blower” is often used to describe a person who discloses relevant information in relation to relevant wrongdoings, as set out in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. A person whose information satisfies the criteria set out in the Act also has the benefit of the protections set out in the Act such as protection of identity and protection against penalisation.

Subject to exceptions, a person to whom a protected disclosure is made, and any person to whom a protected disclosure is referred in the performance of that person’s duties, shall not disclose to another person any information that might identify the person by whom the protected disclosure was made.

The making of a protected disclosure does not necessarily prevent the conduct of any other statutory procedure. Any member of the Defence Forces who feels that s/he has been penalised or threatened with penalisation for making a protected disclosure has the right to make a complaint to the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces.

*****

The Irish Air Corps routinely use the Medical Boarding process as a HR tool to dismiss those they perceive as “troublemakers”.

It is interesting to note that Minister Simon Coveney does not use this opportunity to deny that whistle-blowers’ are sacked from the Air Corps using the medical boarding process. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 09/12/20 – Why is death in service rate of (smaller) Irish Air Corps higher than (larger) Naval Service

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 94

To ask the Minister for Defence the reason the rate of death in service of Air Corps personnel over the past 20 years is approximately twice the rate of death of that of Naval Service personnel when the figures are adjusted for service strength; if he and or his predecessors have ever commissioned an analysis of Defence Force personnel death rates and causes of death while in a post service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42242/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The total deaths in service for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service for the past 20 years as of 31 October is 204, 21 and 16 respectively.

The Deputy will be aware that there is ongoing litigation in relation to allegations regarding the use of certain chemicals in the Air Corps. As the matter is subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment on any speculation which may impact on such litigation.

*****

Catherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)

QUESTION NO: 95


To ask the Minister for Defence the breakdown of Air Corps personnel deaths by categories of non-accidental death and accidental death while in service for the past 20 years to date. [42243/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The total deaths in service for the Air Corps since 2000 as of 30 November 2020 is 21.

The Military Authorities have advised that six of those deaths relate to accidents, four of which occurred while the personnel in question were on duty. Fifteen deaths were non-accident related.

*****

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 24/11/20 – No plans to offer medical cards to retired Defence Forces personnel

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 897

To ask the Minister for Health his plans to carry out a full health audit of former members of all branches of the Defence Forces with a view to extending a full medical card to all retired Defence Forces members. [38583/20]

Stephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)

Under the provisions of the Health Act 1970 (as amended), eligibility for health services in Ireland is based primarily on residency and means. The Act provides that persons who are unable, without undue hardship, to arrange GP services for themselves and dependents can qualify for full eligibility (a medical card). The HSE awards medical cards in accordance with the Health Act and assesses applicants on the overall financial situation of the applicant and his or her spouse or dependent.

Every effort is made by the HSE, within the framework of the legislation, to support applicants in applying for a medical card and, in particular, to take full account of any difficult circumstances in the case of applicants who may be in excess of the income guidelines. Social and medical issues are also considered when determining whether undue hardship exists for an individual accessing general practitioner or other medical services and to that end, the HSE may exercise discretion and grant a medical card where an applicant exceeds his or her income threshold. Currently, more than 32% of the population hold eligibility for a medical card.

All persons who are ordinarily resident in the state can apply to the HSE to be determined whether eligible for a medical card.

*****

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 24/11/20 – No plans by Minister Coveney to audit health of Irish Air Corps personnel despite proven Health & Safety failings

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 464

To ask the Minister for Defence his plans to carry out a full health audit of serving members of the Air Corps. [38582/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

A comprehensive range of primary and secondary medical services are provided to all members of the Permanent Defence Force. This is to ensure that personnel are medically fit to undertake the duties assigned to them, and to treat any medical conditions arising which would inhibit their capacity to undertake such duties. This includes an annual medical examination which comprises a review of the individual’s medical history and a full physical examination.

*****

Air Corps personnel have been badly served by the Medical Corps

  • Treated chemically injured personnel as malingerers.
  • Refused to refer injured personnel for specialised consultant care for complex illnesses.
  • Used the medical boarding system as a “HR resolution tool” to dismiss chemically injured personnel.
  • Disallowed the testimony of expert medical consultants at such medical boards used to dismiss even whistleblowers.
  • Admonished chemically injured personnel for using civilian doctors even sending  military ambulances to retrieve sick personnel from their homes.
  • Attempted to access medical records of chemically injured personnel in civilian hospitals without their consent.

It must be said that the negligence of engineering officers within the Formation Safety Office hindered the work of doctors on the ground at Baldonnel and wider afield. 

If the FSO had carried out chemical risk assessments, conducted with “proper vigor” by competent & trained personnel, they would in many instances have required risk specific health surveillance. Risks specific health surveillance would have given medics a “heads up” regarding symptoms of “at risk” illnesses.  This should in turn have lead to annual medical assessments more tailored to these risks than the “standard” annual medical that all members of the Defence Forces undergo. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann – Motion on Confidence in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar – 10th November 2020

Róisín Shorthall (Social Democrats)

The shortened version of the Róisín Shorthall T.D. (Social Democrats) contribution on the Motion on Confidence in Tánaiste & Minister for Enterprise , Trade & Employment, Leo Varadkar, T.D.

Deputy Shorthall raises the hypocrisy of Leo Varadkar who used the cabinet rule-book as an excuse to not assist a former Air Corps member seeking medical help to reduce the *untimely deaths of #IrishAirCorps personnel due to unprotected workplace chemical exposure at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.

A similar chemical exposure tragedy in the Royal Australian Air Force saw exposed personnel suffer cancer rates up to 41% greater than a control group. But due to awareness, vigilance, screening and other coordinated medical interventions they were able to turn a greater risk of death & illness into 27% lower mortality than the average Australian of the same age. A similar chemical exposure tragedy has also occurred in the armed services of the Netherlands and their first act was to help survivors.

In Ireland Fine Gael has spent the past half decade denying any help whatsoever to exposed Air Corps personnel nor even admitting that a problem exists.

This is despite the fact that both the HSA, and the DoD appointed independent investigator, both vindicated the claims of three whistle-blowers on this issue with the HSA going as far as to threaten legal action against the Air Corps unless they complied with specific instructions from health & safety inspectors.

*****

Untimely* deaths of serving & former Irish Air Corps personnel

  • 85 verified deaths have occurred in total since 1980
  • 72 of these deaths have occurred since 2000
  • 48 of these deaths have occurred since 2010

Either the rate of death is accelerating or we are missing many deaths from previous decades or possibly both.

The three leading causes of death

  • 37% of deaths are from cancer
  • 30% deaths are from cardiac
  • At least 18% of deaths are from suicide

*We record untimely as dying at or before age 66 (civilian pension age), average age of death is 51 years. We are counting deaths from medical reasons & suicide, we are not counting accidental deaths nor murder.

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 21/07/20 – No internal investigation into Irish Air Corps safety failures

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 353

To ask the Minister for Defence the actions he, his officials, the Chief of Staff Branch, Air Corps headquarters and or the State Claims Agency has taken to investigate the reasons for the non-compliance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Acts 1989 and 2005 at the Air Corps as stated by the Health and Safety Authority investigation which concluded after nearly three years in September 2018; and the steps taken at all levels to ensure the same failings to do not occur again in the Air Corps or the other branches of the Defence Forces. [16654/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

I wish to assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a high priority for me, my Department and the military authorities.

The Deputy will be aware that following three inspections at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel during 2016, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) issued a Report of Inspection to the Air Corps on 21 October, 2016. This report listed a number of advisory items for follow up, including the areas of risk assessments, safety statements and the provision and use of personal protective equipment.

The resultant Air Corps improvement plan confirmed the Air Corps’ full commitment to implementing improved safety measures that protect workers and ensure risks are as low as reasonably practicable.

The Air Corps improvement plan was implemented over eight phases, which the military authorities have advised are now complete, with phase eight, chemical awareness training and respiratory equipment training, being a continuous process.

The HSA has formally noted the high level of cooperation received and the considerable progress made to date by the Air Corps in this regard and their investigation is now closed.

A wide range of other measures are in place to ensure the health and safety of those serving in the Air Corps including monitoring exposure levels, conducting annual occupational medical screening, audits and training.

As the health and wellbeing of the men and women working in the Air Corps is a priority, the former Minister ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps in Baldonnel were independently reviewed. The independent report considered the Defence Forces health and safety regime, its current policy and its application and made a number of observations including in relation to documentation, health surveillance, and exposure to monitoring. The report was published on the Department’s website following its circulation to those who made disclosures.

The Air Corps and the wider Defence organisation is committed to complying with health and safety legislation. The organisation is proactive in ensuring that the best standards are adhered to in order to ensure that the risk to human health is as low as reasonably practicable.

The Deputy will appreciate that as litigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

*****

It would have offered some small comfort to survivors of the Irish Air Corps chemical exposure tragedy if the recently re-appointed Minister Coveney had stated that the health & welfare of former personnel who served at Casement Aerodrome was also high priority for him, his Department and the military authorities but alas he chose not to do so at this time.

In terms of the “high level of cooperation” and the “full commitment to implementing improved safety measures” we must be very clear, the Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action if the Irish Air Corps did not comply with their instructions to improve conditions at Baldonnel.

To say there was a high level of cooperation is nonsense because the Air Corps had no choice but to comply. It is akin to a drunk driver crashing into a cafe & injuring scores of people then having a judge praise their cooperation once caught. 

Calling the orders of the HSA “advisory” is also a subtle attempt to downplay the seriousness of the problems discovered. But yes issuing PPE such as gloves, respirators, eye protection and also providing chemical safety training 28 years after they became mandatory is indeed “great progress”. 

But why was no disciplinary process started within the Defence Forces to hold to account those in management who presided over the decades long health & safety shambles?

Current Irish Air Corps compliance with workplace Health & Safety legislation is merely a veneer. There has been no change to safety culture and the Formation Safety Office is severely under resourced and with no dedicated H&S enforcement personnel.

Surprisingly, Vice Admiral Mellett told an Air Corps campaigner recently that it is difficult to change the safety culture of an organisation like the Air Corps. If only the Chief of Staff ahad powerful enforcement tool at his disposal such as military law to force such a culture change through quickly?

When there is a will there is a way, unfortunately decades on from the Army deafness scandal, the insular Defence Forces still don’t understand true Health & Safety from the bottom to the very top of the organisation and without proper understanding there is no will to change. 

In terms of the independent third party investigation it was neither independent nor third party. While there may have been initial attempts to find an independent third party specialist with toxicological or chemical experience, the last government eventually decided to appoint a recently retired barrister from the office of the Attorney General. This is an office of the state that is being sued by former Air Corps personnel so by no stretch of the imagination was this investigator independent nor third party, he was a retired civil servant still on the payroll of the state.

The so called “O’Toole report” is striking because the investigator states at the very start of the report that he was not qualified to undertake the investigation he was tasked to carry out.

My expertise is in the area of law and in carrying out this review it was my intention to examine compliance by the Air Corps with the relevant law and regulation. I was not in a position to consider the substances in use or any implications for human health arising from such use as these issues are outside my competence. The allegations concern both the current health and safety regime and compliance with that regime in a period stretching back over 20 years.

That Minister Coveney can point to this investigation as something worthwhile is stretching credibility. Essentially, the reason for appointing O’Toole was to slow down the  need for a political response to the problem and to ultimately justify doing zero to help save lives & reduce suffering of exposed Air Corps personnel. 

The “O’Toole Report” officially known as the “Report of the Independent Reviewer – Protected Disclosures – Air Corps” can be read in full via the link below.

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2250a7-report-of-the-independent-reviewer-protected-disclosures-air-corps/

The Risk Management Section of the State Claims Agency audited Irish Air Corps compliance with Health & Safety for a decade before the Health & Safety Authority were forced to intervene to stop the ongoing unprotected exposure of the workforce to carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants & toxic chemicals at Casement Aerodrome.

The HSA file was opened in January 2016 and was only closed in September 2018 but the “superb” health & safety performance of the Air Corps for the decade prior to HSA intervention allowed the State Claims Agency & NTMA to justify discretionary performance-related payments for their own personnel & senior management. 

The State Claims agency earned bonus pay for improvements in Air Corps health & safety risk profile while the very same same Air Corps continued to seriously harm serving personnel through lack of even the most basic health & safety measures.

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Seanad Éireann – 17th July 2020 – Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell (Independent)

Watch Senator Gerard Craughwell request that the speaker of the Irish Senate invite the head of the State Claims Agency before senators in the Upper House to explain why NAMA / NTMA / SCA have ignored an order of the Irish Supreme Court to provide critical toxic chemical exposure data to a former Irish Air Corps technician.

The technician is one of a number of seriously injured Irish Air Corps personnel who are taking legal action against the state alleging non existent chemical health & safety at the Irish Air Corps at Casement Aerodrome.

The data was originally requested in 2013 and has delayed legal cases for 7 years. 32 personnel have died young since the data was requested bringing the untimely death body count to 78 personnel with an average age 50 years.

A third of the deaths are cancer, a third are cardiovascular and a fifth (15) suicide. #DelayDenyDie