Dáil Éireann Written Answers 5th April 2022 – Irish Air Corps surveillance of whistle-blowers

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 435

To ask the Minister for Defence the number of serving and former Air Corps whistle-blowers who have been placed under surveillance by the State Claims Agency or its agents. [18187/22]

QUESTION NO: 444

To ask the Minister for Defence the number of serving and former Air Corps whistle-blowers who have been placed under surveillance by the Defence Forces. [18185/22]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 435 and 444 together.

The conduct of surveillance activities by the Defence Forces is an operational security matter carried out in line with relevant national legislation. The relevant military authorities provide regular assessments, reports and briefings to me, as Minister for Defence, to the Secretary General of the Department of Defence and to the Chief of Staff. These assessments, by their nature, are confidential.

I am informed by the State Claims Agency that they do not comment on individual claims. The Agency’s statutory mandate is to manage claims in such a manner as to ensure that the State’s liability is contained at the lowest achievable level.

*****

DELAY – DENY – DIE – SPY

Was the Engine Shop / Avionics complex at Irish Air Corps condemned before demolition?

We revisit an old Parliamentary Question that was never fully resolved.

Personnels say ERF/Avionics was condemned and placed out of bounds, previous junior minister says no record of this.

Perhaps Simon Coveney could “ask someone”?

Written answers – Wednesday 5th July 2017- Department of Defence Properties

Lisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)

269. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason or fault for which a building (details supplied) was condemned and ordered out of bounds to all personnel; the date on which the building was condemned; the person that signed the order condemning the building; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31724/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I have been advised by the military authorities that it is not possible to provide the information requested by the Deputy within the allocated time. However, I have requested that the information be sourced as a matter of urgency and I will reply to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

No further response

Written answers – Thursday 12th October 2017 – Department of Defence Properties

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

188. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason or fault for which a building (details supplied) at Casement Aerodrome, Dublin was condemned and ordered out of bounds to all personnel; the date of condemnation; the person that signed the order condemning the building; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43216/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I have been advised by the military authorities that the former ERF Avionics building, which was a mixed brick and prefabricated structure, was demolished in 2009 as a direct result of the completion of more permanent, bespoke designed workshops in 2007.

They have further advised that following a review of records at the relevant locations within the Defence Forces that no known documentation exists indicating that this building was ever condemned or placed out of bounds prior to being demolished.

*****

The ERF / Avionics complex was highly contaminated and placed out of bounds in September 2007. Air Corps engineers where also actually fearful that the building would collapse during use.

However, in 2008 rooms on the Avionics side were pressed into use as indoor training areas for the Air Corps College. These indoor training areas shared contaminated air with ERF through interlinked open attic spaces thus further exposing personnel in an unprotected manner to dangerous chemical fumes such as dichloromethane.

Also in 2008 personnel who served in ERF sought their medical files from the Defence Forces and subsequently in early 2009 the building was demolished. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 16/12/20 – “Not an Outdoor Gymnasium” adjacent to Spray Paint Exhaust

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 149

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the person or body that chose the installation location of the recently installed outdoor gymnasium at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin. [43855/20]

QUESTION NO: 150

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the way in which the Air Corps formation safety office allowed a leisure facility such as the new outdoor gymnasium at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin, to be installed 15 m to 20 m from the low level exhaust stack of the Air Corps spray paint facility; if the exhaust stack routinely emits chemicals that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction; and if he has full confidence in the current Air Corps chemicals health and safety regime. [43856/20]

QUESTION NO: 151

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the cost of the new outdoor gym; the cost of installation; and the potential cost of relocating it to a safer alternative location at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, County Dublin. [43857/20]

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 to 151, inclusive, together.

The Deputy will be aware that three protected disclosures were received in late 2015 and January 2016 in relation to the Air Corps. Legal advice was sought and an independent reviewer was appointed. The Reviewer’s independent report considered the Defence Forces health and safety regime, its current policy and its application. Although the report found that the Defence Forces regime appears to be capable of meeting statutory requirements, it makes a number of observations; including in relation to documentation, health surveillance, and exposure monitoring. It also notes that the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is the appropriate statutory body to deal with such allegations. The report of the independent reviewer was provided to the individuals who made the protected disclosures and it was also published on the Department of Defence website.

In parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016 by the HSA, the Air Corps had continued to work with the HSA to improve its health and safety regime. 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. The HSA has now closed its investigation. However, it must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.

I am advised by my military authorities that the facility referred to by the Deputy is in fact an outdoor training area as distinct from an outdoor Gym. This equipment was installed at a cost of €21,918 including the necessary site works. I am further advised that the Defence Forces do not plan to relocate the equipment elsewhere as they are not aware of any safety concerns pertaining to the current location.

*****

The Air Corps base at Baldonnel, Co. Dublin comprises several hundred hectares of space. That the Air Corps could install an outdoor training facility within metres of the exhaust stack of the Spray Paint Facility either shows a staggering level of confidence in the filtration capabilities of the extraction system or utter incompetence.

The outdoor training facility or “not an outdoor gym” is built on the site of the old Avionics/Engine Shop complex which was demolished when sick personnel who worked in the location started to seek their medical files. Prior to demolition the building was condemned and marked out of bounds but the minister as denied it was ever condemned in previous parliamentary questions. 

Dangerous chemicals routinely emitted by the Air Corps spray paint facility include the following that are highly dangerous to human health and especially dangerous to the health of pregnant females and their unborn child as they are capable of causing genetic mutational harm leading to congenital birth defects.

        • acetone
        • cyclohexane
        • ethylbenzene
        • heptane
        • hexamethylene diisocyanate
        • hexane
        • methyl acetate
        • methyl ethyl ketone
        • phenol
        • stoddard solvent
        • toluene
        • xylene
        • zinc chromate

For decades these very same chemicals exited this low level exhaust stack, blew across the road and into the windows of Avionics Squadron & Engine Repair Flight likely harming health and likely contributing to the untimely deaths of multiple personnel in both locations. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

Whistle blower who raised concerns over alleged chemical exposures seeks Air Corps inquiry

A whistleblower who has raised concerns over alleged chemical exposures in the Air Corps says the force used five of the same chemicals at the centre of a cancer scandal involving tech giants Samsung.

The whistleblower has compiled a list of 70 deaths of former Air Corps staff that he believes should prompt an investigation into chemical exposures at the force’s headquarters in Casement Aerodrome.

South Korean company Samsung last week apologised for the sickness and deaths suffered by some of its workers after they were linked to chemical exposures in its facilities. Dozens of employees have experienced grave illnesses such as leukaemia and brain tumours.

Samsung and a group representing ailing workers agreed compensation terms after a highly publicised standoff that had been ongoing for more than a decade. The president of its device solutions division said the company failed to “sufficiently manage health threats” at its plants

SHARPS (Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry) is a group campaigning on behalf of those who worked in Samsung facilities and subsequently suffered illnesses.

Its website has listed case studies and chemicals used by Samsung, including trichloroethylene, a known carcinogenic used by the Irish Air Corps until 2007.

This newspaper has previously revealed the details of an internal Air Corps memo that said it is possible staff may have ingested Triklone N, a vapour degreaser that contains trichloroethylene,  over a 27-year-period.

The memo said staff could have suffered other exposures because there was no record that protective measures were in place to mitigate the impact of the toxic solvent.

The summary of an internal Air Corps report, compiled in 2014, asks: “Can the Defence Forces be found not to have done everything reasonably practicable?”

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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.”

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…

Sinn Féin TD: Meet Air Corp health claims with “CANDOUR”

Seriously ill former members of the Air Corps are facing potentially “catastrophic” consequences for their health as a result of the State’s efforts to fight them ‘tooth and nail’ over the release of information that could aid their treatment, the Dáil heard yesterday.

Sinn Féin defence spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh yesterday said the CervicalCheck scandal has demonstrated a need for the State to disclose the medically sensitive information it has to affected members of the public — including the former Air Corps staff.

Mr Ó Snodaigh asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if the Government would release a report on working conditions in the Air Corps headquarters in Casement Aerodrome that it has withheld.

Mr Ó Snodaigh also highlighted one case in which the State Claims Agency is “fighting tooth and nail” against a High Court discovery order demanding the release of a list of chemicals used in the Air Corps hangars. “This is potentially catastrophic for some of those making claims and also for some who are not making claims,” said Mr Ó Snodaigh.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…