State blasted over Air Corps safety

A whistleblower has criticised the Government’s handling of allegations of health and safety management in the Air Corps, claiming that staff exposure to toxic chemicals has caused the deaths and chronic illnesses suffered by members and their families.

State blasted over Air Corps safety

The new protected disclosure, submitted earlier this week, claims that chemical exposures may have contributed to the cancers, depression, and cardiac diseases recorded in Air Corps staff, as well as the miscarriages and illnesses suffered by the partners and children of members.

The whistleblower further alleges that there have been attempts to “engineer the dismissal of a serving Irish Army Air Corps protected disclosure whistleblower”.

It also claims that last week, in a separate instance “a settlement was made to yet another Irish Army Air Corps whistleblower as a result of the bullying and mistreatment he received after raising health and safety concerns to the authorities at Baldonnel”.

The disclosure — seen by the Irish Examiner — also claims the third party appointed to review whistleblowers’ claim is not adequately empowered by the Government to properly investigate the claims.

These claims, submitted between December 2015 and February 2016, saw three separate whistleblowers make protected disclosures in which they submitted that the Air Corps was failing in its duty of care to its technicians, as these staff members were not provided with adequate training or protective equipment for handling dangerous chemicals.

It was also alleged staff health was not monitored for adverse reactions to their exposure to chemicals, as required under health and safety law.

The Health and Safety Authority subsequently inspected Casement Aerodrome and threatened the Air Corps with legal action unless it addressed concerns it identified, many of which echoed issues raised by the whistleblowers.

The author of the latest disclosure claims that the former civil servant appointed to investigate the previous submissions told the whistleblower that “he was not given the required powers to investigate the remit given to him by [Junior Defence] Minister Paul Kehoe”.

The eight-page disclosure further alleges that two health and safety reports dating back to 1995 were destroyed.

It is believed these are the reports that were previously raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh, and were the subject of a letter from Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers TD to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The disclosure states that one of these reports found that staff in one part of Casement Aerodrome were exposed to more than three times the recommended limit for one toxic substance.

“Personnel were not informed about this finding and indeed were left to operate in the same dangerous facility for a further 12 years,” the disclosure states.

The whistleblower calls for the introduction of an “ex gratia scheme with no admission of liability by the State” that would provide assistances for ill staff and their families.

On the review of last year’s disclosures, the Department of Defence said the “terms of reference for the review were provided to those who made disclosures”.

“Once a final review is to hand, the minister will determine any further steps required and ensure that all recommendations, whether arising from the work of the Health and Safety Authority or the ongoing protected disclosure review, will be acted upon to ensure the safety of the men and women of the Air Corps,” a statement said.

The disclosure was sent to 13 TDs — including an Taoiseach, six cabinet members and two junior ministers — three senators, and Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, chief of staff of the Defence Forces.

Mr Ó Snodaigh has confirmed that he has received the disclosure and that he will seek to have the issue raised in the Dáil next week.

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