Last month, this newspaper revealed that the Health and Safety Authority threatened legal action against the Air Corps, unless it improved its management of technicians’ exposure to toxic substances.
The report came in October 2016, almost a year after three whistleblowers made protected disclosures to the Government about Air Corps technicians’ exposure to harmful substances.
The Irish Examiner can now reveal that the independent third party appointed to review the protected disclosures, which were made between November 2015 and January 2016, has met with all three of the whistleblowers.
One of the whistleblowers had a witness present at his session with the Government-appointed official reviewing the claims, and invited Sinn Féin defence spokesman, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, to attend the meeting, which took place on Monday of last week.
Mr Ó Snodaigh said that he is concerned that the official tasked with the review only has a remit to investigate the handling of the whistleblowers’ complaints and not whether there were insufficient safeguards in place for technicians working with dangerous chemicals, as suggested in the protected disclosures.
“The impression given in the Dáil was that this would be an investigation, or at least a preparatory investigation, of the claims the whistleblowers made,” Mr Ó Snodaigh said.
“What is needed is a forensic investigation of these serious allegations by people with specialities in health and safety and the treatment of chemicals. However, that does not seem to be within the remit of this review.”
The State is currently facing six legal claims from former Air Corps staff, who have claimed that their chronic illnesses were caused by their working conditions in Casement Aerodrome.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defence has declined to reveal if further whistleblowers have come forward, following comments made by Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe.
Responding to a parliamentary question from Cork North Central TD Mick Barry, Mr Kehoe said that his office received further disclosures, “in addition” to the three whistleblowers’ complaints: “My department has received a further three disclosures, which, having been assessed, were deemed protected disclosures under the provisions of the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014. Of these, two have been resolved and the third is ongoing. In addition, I am in receipt of a disclosure received on January 27, 2017, which is currently being assessed.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Defence would not say if these disclosures were made by new whistleblowers or were further disclosures by the original complainants.
“Three disclosures, which are in the public domain, relate to allegations concerning health and safety in the Air Corps. The minister has an obligation, under the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014, to protect the identity of those making disclosures under the act.
“Therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment, in any way, on the identity or substance of any other disclosures,” the spokesperson said.