The Government is facing pressure to commission a wide-ranging health study on former Air Corps staff to establish if their working conditions contributed to significant ill-health in some members.
The call for a health study, similar to one established in Australia to examine the correlation between illnesses in its air force and their members’ use of chemicals, comes following months of revelations in the Irish Examiner.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he will raise the request in the Dáil, and said the Government’s response to the scandal has been “deficient” to date.
Mr Martin’s stance follows a recent meeting he and his party defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers held with a number of former Air Corps staff.
The group, all in their 40s and 50s, listed the litany of illnesses they have suffered since leaving the Air Corps, including rectal cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, depression and anxieties, solvent-induced encephalopathy, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — even among non-smokers.
“All suffer significant health issues,” Mr Martin said, describing the encounter as a “sad and often difficult” meeting.
“One has undergone five surgeries and is in constant pain. They all have personal issues. One has had two heart attacks and in one instance was kept alive by his wife and a first responder,” said Mr Martin.
“All were exposed to chemicals, and in at least one case, the person was ‘tubbed’ — sat in a bath and doused in chemicals which was a ritual at the time,” he said.
“I was taken aback at some of what they had to say, particularly about not having protective clothing.
“One told me that subsequent to his time at the Air Corps, he went into private industry and couldn’t get over the contrast in terms of the attitude and directions for handling chemical spills and use of protective suits. The contrast was striking.”
Mr Martin said the men were not aware of any potential link until they caught up with their former Air Corps colleagues via social media, or until they read coverage of the issue in the Irish Examiner.
He said the men are now compiling a list of former technicians who are suffering chronic illnesses or have died.
“My own concern is that there has been a significant absence in transparency,” said Mr Martin.
He said his party would call for the publication of an independent report on Air Corps whistleblower allegations which was recently presented to the Department of Defence, along with all health and safety reports into conditions at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.
Mr Martin said similar experiences in Australia provide an example Ireland can follow in tackling the issue.
“We have to move from anecdotal examples to an evidence-based study,” he said.
“We need a proper, urgent health study that contrasts Air Corps technicians with the general population,” he said.
In January, this newspaper revealed that three Air Corps whistleblowers made protected disclosures alleging a number of shortcomings in the management of health and safety issues in the technical stores in Casement Aerodrome, where chemicals used in the cleaning and maintenance of aircraft are deployed on a daily basis.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved