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.

File photo

The protected disclosure, seen by the Irish Examiner, contains allegations that the whistleblower was doused in chemicals used to service aircrafts 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 whistleblower.

Last month, the Irish Examiner reported how the disclosure was submitted last December but had received no reply from the Government, bar an acknowledgement that his disclosure was received by the Department of Defence.

However, on June 29 — after the Irish Examiner published its report — minister of state at the Department of Defence Paul Kehoe wrote to the whistleblower, the first substantive response he received from the Government on the matter.

Mr Kehoe said that the whistleblower’s allegations that he was bullied for taking sick leave “are matters that would have been best dealt with at the time” through formal procedures within the Defence Forces.

“Given the passage of time, it is difficult to envisage how a fair and reasonable investigation of these complaints could be achieved at this stage,” said Mr Kehoe.

It has been over a year since Mr Kehoe received the completed O’Toole report, and seven months since he told the Dáil that he had received the whistleblowers’ views on its findings.

“I am considering the next steps in the process having received those views and in the context of ongoing litigation,” Mr Kehoe states in his letter, a line he also told the Dáil last January.

The Department of Defence would not say when these “next steps” would progress.

“The minister is examining options for next steps in the process in light of the views he had received from those who made the disclosures,” said a spokesperson.

“In the context of ongoing litigation, initial legal advice has been received. However, further legal issues have arisen requiring additional advice to inform the minister’s consideration of the next steps in the process.”


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