Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he believes the courts should decide whether former Air Corps staff are suffering chronic illnesses due to chemical exposure.
Mr Varadkar made the comments yesterday in the Dáil where Sinn Féin Defence Spokesperson Aengus O’Snodaigh repeated calls for a health study of Air Corps members, similar to an analysis of Australian Air Force staff, which found technicians who worked with carcinogenic chemicals were at greater risk of illness.
Last year, the Irish Examiner revealed the State is facing a number of claims from former staff, and that whistleblowers had raised concerns about the safety of workers using chemicals at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.
“While I have absolutely no doubt that the serious ill-health suffered by some former members of the Air Corps is real, it has not been proven whether this array of illnesses could be caused by chemical exposure,” Mr Varadkar said.
“I am a medical doctor and have seen the list of illnesses that these former members of the Air Corps and their families have suffered. It is a very long and extensive list of illnesses, including the most common illnesses which most people may encounter — illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, suicide and miscarriages by their partners.
“As a medical doctor, it is not possible for me to say if exposure to chemicals caused all or any of these illnesses because they are commonplace illnesses in the community at large. If it was one specific illness resulting from a known chemical that caused that illness, that would be one thing. These are not the allegations that are being made, however.
“There is litigation in the courts, which are the best place to assess the evidence and see whether the allegations are supported by that evidence,” he said.
Mr O’Snodaigh said a survey is needed as the implications of widespread staff exposure to the chemicals used goes beyond the seven cases currently against the State. “We do not want to be here in 10 years’ time with a higher death toll, having failed to address this scandal,”he said.
“We do not know how many people have been exposed in an unprotected way because nobody has carried out a survey. The Australians did not wait for the courts to adjudicate fully. They acted immediately. Will the Taoiseach act now on the legacy, not on the specific cases but on the legacy of all of those who are suffering in the general public?” Mr O’Snodaigh asked.
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