Air Corps whistleblower meets minister over claims

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe has met an Air Corps whistleblower and saw copies of inspection reports that have raised concerns about conditions in Casement Aerodrome dating back to the 1990s.

The Irish Examiner understands one of four Air Corps whistleblowers met with Mr Kehoe last week, and showed him copies of documents that have prompted allegations in the Dáil of a ‘cover up’ in the force.

This newspaper revealed yesterday that the Department of Defence refused a Freedom of Information request from the Irish Examiner for the release of the reports on the grounds that it “cannot locate” the documents sought.

Opposition TDs, who also saw the documents, say they raised concerns about Air Corps members’ exposure to toxic chemicals over 20 years ago.

The State is defending High Court cases taken by former Air Corps staff who say that they suffer chronic illnesses as a result of working conditions in Casement Aerodrome.

Last October, the Health and Safety Authority threatened the Air Corps with legal action unless it addressed shortcomings that the HSA had identified.

Whistleblowers had previously warned the Government of the dangers.

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh previously told the Dáil that the reports have been covered-up because of the failure of the Defence Forces to implement the changes that were recommended.

Yesterday he said that both Mr Kehoe and the Department of Defence need to explain why the documents cannot be located.

“It is appalling these health and safety documents have gone missing, and it is obvious they were never acted upon,” he said.

“It raises the question as to whether they have been purposely disposed of because of the failure to act on their recommendations,” Mr Ó Snodaigh said.

“The minister and the department have questions to answer,” he said.

The Irish Examiner has established that former State agency Forbairt carried out inspections in Casement Aerodrome in the 1990s.

Enterprise Ireland, which assumed Forbairt’s duties when it was dissolved in 1998, said that it no longer kept copies of the technical reports but sent copies of the documents to the Department of Defence before it had the records destroyed.

However, the department told this newspaper that it cannot release the records as they cannot be found.

The department has not responded to queries as to whether or not the department has any copies of the documents in question, other than the copies it received from Enterprise Ireland.

It has also yet to respond to queries relating to Mr Kehoe’s meeting with the whistleblower last week.

Mr Ó Snodaigh has submitted a parliamentary question to Mr Kehoe calling on him to address the issue of the missing reports in the Dáil.

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