The solicitor representing six people currently taking legal action over their exposure to toxic chemicals confirmed he has received instruction from up to six more workers who are considering submitting personal injury claims.
Solicitor Denis Boland also said his offices have been contacted by an unspecified number of former Air Corps staff, all of whom say they are suffering various illnesses that they believe could have been as a result of their working environment in Baldonnel, but that he has yet to receive formal instruction from these individuals.
Opposition parties have called on the Government to compensate former Air Corps technicians if a link is established between their medical complaints and working environment.
Mr Boland said in all six cases currently before the courts, his clients have received the medical opinion of a toxico-pathologist who has alleged their medical complaints were as a result of their exposure of harmful chemicals.
The other clients from whom he has received instruction have yet to consult experts for a medical report on their illnesses, he said.
Mr Boland declined to comment on the number of enquiries he has received, and said that matters would be determined by the courts.
Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe told the Dáil the then Minister for Defence Simon Coveney and Taoiseach Enda Kenny had received protected disclosures from three whistleblowers in 2015, as revealed in the Irish Examiner earlier this week.
He confirmed their concerns were raised almost a year before the Health and Safety Authority issued a report to the Air Corps in which it threatened legal action unless it implemented a number of recommendations on the management of harmful chemicals.
However, Mr Kehoe did not answer a number of questions arising from this week’s revelations including:
- Why none of the three whistleblowers have been contacted by the person appointed to review their claims.
- Whether existing staff have been issued with the necessary protective equipment as recommended by the HSA report in October.
- Whether the recommendations of a 2013 safety management system review at Baldonnel were implemented.
Under pressure from opposition parties who raised the issue in the Dáil, Mr Kehoe said: “I will ensure that all recommendations, whether arising from the work of the HSA or the ongoing protected disclosures review, will be acted upon to ensure the safety of the men and women of the Air Corps.”
Fianna Fáil’s Defence spokesperson Lisa Chambers said “the State should only be defending cases where it believes it does not have a case to answer”.
“If the State has committed a wrong, it should compensate the victims properly.
“The minister of state should not put people through the trauma of a court process where they have a genuine claim.
“Every effort should be made to settle such cases out of court with the individuals involved. The only people served by defending the indefensible are the lawyers,” she said.
Sinn Féin’s Defence spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the military authorities “should accept the responsibility for the years in which they are aware of this”.
“The outline of the cases being taken are scary, if they are upheld,” he said.
Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Mick Barry claimed the delay in addressing the concerns raised indicated a ‘high-handedness’ that was “not untypical of the way rank and file men and women in the Defence Forces are treated over a range of issues at present”.