Junior defence minister Paul Kehoe defends probe of Air Corps claims

Junior defence minister Paul Kehoe has defended the Government’s decision to investigate whistleblower allegations against the Air Corps’ management of staff exposure to harmful chemicals.

Last week, one of three whistleblowers who raised concerns over health and safety at the Air Corps in 2015 made a new disclosure, in which it was alleged that the official appointed to investigate the claims was not qualified to review the allegations.

The Irish Examiner revealed how whistleblowers have alleged that technicians’ exposure to the chemicals with which they work have caused chronic illnesses among staff, and that the Air Corps failed in its duty to provide adequate protective equipment or training to these members.

The Government appointed a former civil servant to review the claims, however in the new disclosure sent to a number of TDs and senators last week, one of the whistleblowers criticised both the choice of official and the remit given to him by the Government.

This criticism was put to Mr Kehoe in a parliamentary question submitted by Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

“I am satisfied that the person appointed has the experience required to carry out the review he has been asked to undertake,” Mr Kehoe said in his reply.

Mr Kehoe said the terms of reference allow “a review of all relevant documents held by the Department and the Defence Forces, any additional material as may be supplied or received by the reviewer, and interviews of such persons as considered appropriate by the reviewer”.

Mr Kehoe said the official appointed will review the allegations and determine if the Air Corps complied “with relevant health and safety standards with regard to the safe use of toxic chemicals and if not what action has been taken in the intervening period to ensure compliance”.

The official has also been asked to provide “considered views and observations in relation to the allegations set out”, he said.

“Once a final review is to hand, I will determine any further steps required and ensure that all recommendations will be acted upon to ensure the safety of the men and women of the Air Corps,” said Mr Kehoe.

“Publication of the report will be a matter to be considered in light of its content and the obligations in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 to protect the identity of those making such disclosures.”

In January, the Irish Examiner revealed how six former Air Corps staff are suing the State over the illnesses they suffer, claiming it is as a result of their working environment.

This newspaper also disclosed how last October the Health and Safety Authority threatened the Air Corps with legal action unless it addressed concerns it raised following a series of inspections.

Many of the issues raised by the HSA were concerns that were previously highlighted by the whistle-blowers.

Mr O’Snodaigh sought to have the latest disclosure raised in the Dáil on Tuesday, but the matter was not selected for discussion under topical issues.


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