Air Corps toxic chemical exposure victims don't have confidence in Tánaiste 

Air Corps toxic chemical exposure victims don't have confidence in Tánaiste 

Gavin Tobin. Picture: Larry Cummins

Survivors of exposure to toxic chemicals while in the Air Corps say they are not confident Micheál Martin can steer urgent change needed to reform the Defence Forces.

They say this is because he knew more than six years ago the extent of abuse in the Air Corps.

Whistleblowers say they briefed Mr Martin numerous times, and he in turn assured them he would support them in their fight for health and other supports needed because of their exposure to hazardous chemicals.

“I don’t think I have confidence in his ability to really deal with issues raised about the Air Corps and what was going on,” Gavin Tobin, a former aircraft mechanic who was exposed to dangerous chemicals when he was in the Air Corps, said.

When he was in opposition in 2017, we met him and he was fully briefed on abusive behaviour and members being exposed to chemicals. He knew all about it and was even prepared to attack the Government at the time.

“But if he can approve of a statutory process now, what has he been doing over the past six years? Why didn’t he set up an inquiry when he became Taoiseach?”

Mr Tobin, whose exposure to chemicals has severely damaged his health, initiated legal action against the Air Corps in 2013 after his case was reviewed by the personal injuries board.

His is a test case and is one of a number that have been launched by Air Corps members who claim their health was damaged due to exposure to chemicals.

Some of them, like Mr Tobin, were victims of a practice known as “tubbing”, which was referenced in the Independent Review Group report into abuse in the Defence Forces.

This is the practice where Air Corps personnel were dumped into barrels filled with a “combination of chemicals, oil, aeroplane fuel” and even dead animal carcasses for punishment, or initiation ceremonies.

The IRG report described as “particularly alarming” the failure to acknowledge or deal with claims of injury and serious health problems arising from exposure to hazardous chemicals in the Air Corps.

It has recommended that a statutory “fact-finding process” be initiated to identify systemic failures in the Defence Forces complaints system.

This should, the panel noted, see whether there have been issues raised in the investigation of complaints concerning health and safety issues in the Air Corps in relation to the maintenance and use of hazardous chemicals and the investigation of air accidents.

It also noted that on foot of complaints concerning health and safety in the Air Corps, a health and safety audit unearthed “numerous serious allegations of wrongdoing”.

Survivors, like Mr Tobin, reported cases of cancers and infertility allegedly arising from poor work practices.

Back in February 2017, when he was leader of the then opposition, Mr Martin demanded to know why it was taking the government so long to respond to allegations made by a number of whistleblowers.

He also asked if the government would commission an independent board of inquiry into an issue that he said he believed “could represent a serious scandal”.

He also attacked as “unacceptable” the response by the State.

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