An Air Corps whistleblower, leaving the Defence Forces, feels “left out on a limb” by the minister to whom he appealed for help, the Dáil has heard.
Last month, the Irish Examiner revealed that the serving member wrote to the Defence Forces chief of staff to inform him of a decision to retire early over what was claimed was the authority’s failure to protect him from persecution as a result of concerns he had raised.
Last November, the whistleblower wrote to Paul Kehoe, the junior defence minister, complaining of the “unwarranted treatment” he had received after submitting a protected disclosure on health and safety issues.
The whistleblower is one of a number who has raised concerns over Air Corps staff exposure to cancer-causing chemicals while servicing and maintaining aircraft. The State is fighting seven personal injury cases being taken by former Air Corps members suffering chronic illnesses they say were caused by exposure suffered during their service.
The whistleblower’s early retirement was raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Pat Buckley, who asked Mr Kehoe what action, if any, he had taken on receiving correspondence from the member last November.
Mr Buckley said: “No action was taken on foot of a letter dated 28 November 2018 appealing for the Minister of State’s intervention and asking what protection he was giving to this serving member at the time. What actions were taken on foot of the original protected disclosure?
Mr Kehoe said he “will not stand over any person being penalised for making a protected disclosure” but that the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces was the statutory mechanism for investigation available to the complainant.
Mr Buckley said it was “disingenuous” to suggest the whistleblower should go to the Ombudsman. “I appreciate the Minister of State mentioning that there are certain avenues he can take.
“However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, in terms of the letter dated 28 November 2018 which explained everything that happened regarding the misinformation and where the bullying was being perpetrated, yet he relied on the last line of defence, if the minister of state will pardon the pun, that he is the minister with responsibility for defence.
“The buck stops with him yet this person has been left out on a limb and we are now being told that he has to go to another department.”
Mr Kehoe said he would leave the matter in the hands of the Ombudsman. “I will not stand over anybody being wronged. I encourage the person to whom the deputy is referring to go to the Defence Forces Ombudsman. He or she may have done so but I assure the deputy the case will be dealt with in an independent and fair way. The ombudsman provides that facility in an independent way.”