Pressure for probe into Casement Aerodrome health and safety

Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel

The Government is under increasing pressure to set up a commission of investigation into alleged health and safety management failures at Casement Aerodrome.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Government has received and will consider whistleblowers’ thoughts on the independent review into their allegations of health and safety mismanagement within the Defence Forces, and recommendations would be drawn up to go to Cabinet on the matter.

It comes after the Irish Examiner revealed how former Air Corps staff are suing the State and claim they now suffer chronic illnesses — including cancer — as a result of the Defence Forces’ failure to adequately manage their exposure to the hazardous chemicals they used to service and clean aircraft.

The Irish Examiner also first reported how three whistleblowers raised concerns about how health and safety was managed in the Air Corps and alleged that missing inspection reports on conditions at Casement Aerodrome were destroyed as part of a cover-up to hide what the Defence Forces knew about the working environment.

Taking leaders questions in the Dáil for the first time as Tánaiste, Mr Coveney said he is “personally familiar” with some of the cases Labour leader Brendan Howlin raised and with previous whistleblowers at Casement Aerodrome.

Mr Howlin asked if the Government was considering the establishment of a commission of investigation to establish whether the health and safety management regime in Casement Aerodrome meets the standards of the day and whether the allegations have any credibility.

He also raised the case of one of the whistleblowers who faced discharge from the force when he appeared before a Medical Board this week over charges of alleged “chronic ineffectivity” due to anxiety and a “work-related industrial dispute”.

Mr Howlin told the Dáil: “That a serving member of the Defence Forces can face disciplinary action for chronic inactivity, as it was stated, following a work-related industrial dispute is disconcerting, in particular when it is reported that he has told the minister of state that he was targeted for raising safety concerns.”

Mr Coveney said the Government may have to make decisions on future actions adding that the Cabinet awaited recommendations from the Minister of State Paul Kehoe on the issue.

“It is something in which I have taken a personal interest and have some knowledge of but I cannot go into the detail of it on the floor of the Dáil,” he said adding that he committed to coming back to Mr Howlin with more details.

Responding, Mr Howlin said: “I appreciate the Tánaiste’s reply and understand that he cannot give me a comprehensive response on the Casement Aerodrome issues. I look forward to either a direct briefing or a written response in due course.”

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