Probe into Air Corps allegations urged

The Air Corps’ failure to protect workers from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals may have affected thousands of people, causing 100 deaths as well as birth defects and miscarriages, the Dáil heard yesterday.

The claim, previously made in a protected disclosure to the Department of Defence, was aired as opposition politicians increased the pressure on the Government to commission an investigation into working conditions at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnell.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin criticised the Government’s efforts to have whistle-blowers’ claims of health and safety mismanagement adequately investigated after the details of an independent report were reported by the Irish Examiner.

Christopher O’Toole, an independent third-party appointed to review the claims, reported that the kind of probe envisaged by the terms of reference he was given by the Department of Defence was “impractical”, given his own lack of expertise in chemical science and medicine.

However, Mr O’Toole did report that appropriate records that demonstrate the Air Corps complied with health and safety standards “are not readily available”.

Putting questions to junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe in the Dáil yesterday, Sinn Féin Defence spokesman Aengus O’Snodaigh outlined the litany of allegations against the Air Corps, noting claims of “clusters of highly complicated medical conditions, miscarriages, and birth defects among those who worked in those conditions”.

“Minister, if I said to you that there were a hundred premature or untimely deaths caused because of this exposure, would you agree that there was an urgent need for the State to immediately set up an enquiry?” Mr O’Snodaigh said.

“There are thousands of people who could have been potentially affected. Students who worked on the complex, children in state care when they started in the Air Corps. Officers and their families who are also exposed because of the transfer of chemicals. This is surely a scandal that needs investigation,” he said.

Fianna Fáil Defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers also called for an investigation.

“Ultimately now we have to ensure that this enquiry takes place,” she said.

“If the State is in someway responsible for the negative impact on the health of serving and past serving members we need to stand up, take ownership of that, not hide behind the litigation, and actually put in place a proper health package for those people.”

Mr Kehoe said he was awaiting the whistleblowers’ response to the O’Toole report before deciding a further course of action, but that the terms of reference for the review were kept “as broad as possible”.

“I don’t want to be accused of hiding behind anything, anybody, or any document. I put the independent reviewer’s report up on the website for every deputy in this house to see,” he said.

Former Air Corps staff are suing the State, alleging that they now suffer chronic illnesses including cancer, caused by their exposure to chemicals at Casement Aerodrome.

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