An independent report into allegations that Air Corps inspectors were not qualified to sign off on repairs on the force’s aircraft has found there was “nothing of substance” to affect operations — despite “procedural and documentation deficiencies and errors”.
Last year, the Irish Examiner revealed that a member from within the Defence Forces had written to Defence Minister Simon Coveney under whistleblower protocols to make the allegations, and to further maintain that information was withheld from an internal investigation into the claims, and that misleading information was submitted to this original inquiry.
In subsequent correspondence, the unidentified complainant also told the minister they had been penalised for raising the matter.
Mr Coveney ordered an independent investigation into the allegations, which was undertaken by former department secretary general Eddie Sullivan and two experts from the Irish Aviation Authority.
The allegations centred on the certifying of sheet metal repairs on Air Corps aircraft. The whistleblower had complained that 10 inspectors had been given additional authorisation to certify sheet metal repairs, despite having no qualifications within the trade or a history of doing such work.
“It is beyond comprehension that there personnel who are not qualified enough to undertake the work I do, are now in a position whereby they will inspect and certify my work,” the whistleblower wrote.
“This in my opinion equates to a nurse inspecting and certifying a doctor’s treatment of a patient, this simply does not happen.”
The report found that regulations outlining the certifying of inspectors “lacked a degree of clarity” due to “loose terminology”, and that in one instance, an inspector had his authorisation withdrawn as he did not meet the necessary requirements.
Despite this, the review team did not share the concerns expressed by the whistleblower.
“An aircraft inspector need not have the same skills level but must have an appropriate level of experience to support his certification privileges relating to the aircraft.
“While there was some procedural/documentation deficiencies and errors there was, in our view, nothing of substance that would impact on the overall operations of the Air Corps, nor were there any issues of flight safety being compromised,” the report read.
It also disagreed with the whistleblower’s claim that a letter he sent to the chief of staff was withheld “as it would have highlighted the incompetence of certain personnel in senior management.”
The whistleblower attempted to retrieve the letter to the chief of staff through the Freedom of Information Act.
While his request was granted, “the letter he sought could not be located”, the report states.
“As part of our review, we sought this letter and again it was not possible to locate it,” the review team said.
The report said an Air Corps log showed that the letter was received and processed, and that the review team say a copy of a covering letter forwarding the whistleblowers claim.
“We have no reason to suspect that the letter was withheld or suppressed,” the report said.
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