A whistleblower’s warning that documents revealing unacceptable levels of chemical exposure in the Air Corps were deliberately destroyed was sent to the Department of Defence over a year before it looked for the documents — and discovered they are missing.
The Department of Defence only sought to find the documents after their alleged destruction was raised in the Dáil — more than 12 months after it received the whistleblower’s claim.
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.
The same official was named in a subsequent disclosure by a second whistleblower who also alleged the documents were destroyed.
The years given by the whistleblower for the destroyed documents match those of inspection reports of Casement Aerodrome that the Department itself admits cannot be found.
When asked previously if there are plans to investigate the documents’ disappearance, junior defence minister Paul Kehoe has told the Dáil that he has been “advised by the military authorities that there are no plans to carry out an investigation into why these reports cannot be located.”
The issue of the missing documents was raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh in February 2017.
The following May, Mr Kehoe wrote to Mr Ó Snodaigh to say that he undertook to revert to military authorities about the reports — and that they confirmed they cannot be located.
The State is defending seven High Court cases taken by former Air Corps members who say their chronic illnesses — including cancer and brain disorders — because they were unduly exposed to toxic chemicals while cleaning and servicing aircraft.
The State has denied any responsibility in the cases, and in one case told the court that “no admission is made that the defendants exposed the plaintiff to dangerous chemicals or solvents whether on an ongoing basis or at all”.
Since 2015, a number of whistleblowers have made protected disclosures about working conditions at Casement Aerodrome, and have alleged that documents were destroyed as part of efforts to cover up the extent of the Air Corps’ knowledge of the problems.
One of those whistleblowers made a protected disclosure in December 2015 in which he alleged that a named official “wilfully destroyed evidence throughout the years”.
Mr Ó Snodaigh and Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers have both seen copies of the documents in question and have raised their concern as to their contents.
In February 2017, Mr Ó Snodaigh told the Dáil he had “seen health and safety reports going back as far as 1995, all of which pointed specifically to the issues that were addressed in the Examiner newspaper”.
“This is a cover-up because the military authorities in Casement Aerodrome did not take the required steps; when it was highlighted to them that dangerous chemicals existed, they didn’t take those steps,” he said.
Last year, Ms Chambers wrote to then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny about the documents.
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