By Joe Leogue
TDs and senators are to visit the Air Corps headquarters, amid fears for the health and safety of staff at Casement Aerodrome.
The move follows revelations in the Irish Examiner about conditions for technicians working on aircraft at the base.
Last year, it emerged that whistleblowers had warned the Department of Defence that the Air Corps’ health and safety measures were inadequate for protecting staff from the harmful chemicals used to service airplanes, including cancer-causing solvents.
The Air Corps has now invited members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, to see the changes it has implemented over the past year, following warnings from the State’s health watchdog.
Junior defence minister Paul Kehoe revealed details of the visit to the Committee.
“Under my instructions, the General Officer Commanding, GOC, Irish Air Corps, Brigadier General Seán Clancy, has invited the committee to visit the Air corps base and I ask that the chairman and the committee secretariat arrange that visit through my office,” he said.
The committee proposes to make the visit on March 27.
Aside from making protected disclosures to the Department of Defence, the Air Corps whistleblowers also tipped off the Health and Safety Authority, who inspected Casement Aerodrome a number of times in 2016. The HSA issued a dozen recommendations to the Air Corps, and warned that it would take legal action, unless changes were implemented
It warned that the Air Corps needed to provide protective gloves, eye protection, and respirators to prevent chemical exposure. It said that employees’ exposure to hazardous substances needed to be monitored, and that protective measures had to be instated.
The shortcomings addressed in the HSA report echoed the whistleblowers’ complaints.
Meanwhile, the State is denying it is liable in seven High Court cases taken by former Air Corps staff, who say they now suffer chronic illnesses, including cancer, as a result of their working conditions, over decades, at Casement Aerodrome.
It is not clear whether the committee will meet with whistleblowers, or if it will discuss allegations, made through protected disclosures, with the Air Corps hierarchy.
A protected disclosure sent to the then-Minister of Defence, Simon Coveney, in December, 2015, warned that a named senior member of the Air Corps destroyed reports, dating back to the 1990s, which raised concerns about the levels of toxic chemicals in workshops in Casement Aerodrome.
Mr Kehoe has said he has no plans to investigate their disappearance.
- Irish Examiner