Paul Kehoe seeks to protect Air Corps whistleblower

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe

The Government has written to the Defence Forces to demand a serving member who raised health and safety concerns within the Air Corps be protected under whistleblowers’ legislation.

The assurance from Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe came on the very day the whistleblower appeared before a Medical Board facing a charge of alleged “chronic ineffectivity” due to anxiety and a “work-related industrial dispute”.

The whistleblower had alleged that the Air Corps was failing in its duty to protect staff from the effects of the carcinogenic chemicals used to clean and service aircraft, and met Mr Kehoe to claim he was being victimised within the force for raising concerns.

Complaints from three whistleblowers led to an investigation from the Health and Safety Authority who threatened legal action against the Air Corps unless it improved its management of the hazardous chemicals.

An independent review of their claims found that documents “are not readily available” to prove the Air Corps was in compliance with health regulations on the use of toxic chemicals.

In the Dáil yesterday, opposition TDs accused the Government of failing to adequately address the scandal. “The review the Minister of State initiated produced no answers. There have been no actions to date and we are in exactly the same position today as we were when I first raised the issue in the Dáil,” Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers said.

“The minister of state has not ordered a full health review of people affected. He has not engaged effectively with those affected. The review is quite farcical because the person tasked with the reviewing the issue told the minister of state that he did not have the information or the capability to do what was asked.”

Sinn Féin’s Aengus O’Snodaigh highlighted how he had raised the case involving the whistleblower last July, and asked for assurances that the individual is receiving protection under whistle blower legislation in light of reports in this newspaper regarding his appearance before the Medical Board.

“The articles in the Irish Examiner yesterday and today show a clear breach of the spirit and the letter of those protected disclosures,” Mr O’Snodaigh said.

“What steps has the minister of state taken to ensure the Defence Forces as a whole, and therefore those involved in this individual case, understand that they must fully comply with the Protected Disclosures Act 2014?” he asked.

Mr Kehoe told the Dáil he will “take whatever actions are available to me in order to ensure that all individuals who make protected disclosures receive the protection of that legislation”.

“I have recently written to the chief of staff restating my position that the individual concerned is afforded the full protection of the Protected Disclosure Act. I have made clear that no action should be taken that would impinge on his rights in accordance with protected disclosure legislation,” Mr Kehoe said.

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