As the country teeters on the precipice of a snap election over the mistreatment of whistleblower Maurice McCabe, another man who spoke up about wrongs within the public service is facing the sack from the Defence Forces — without a whisper from the majority of the political class.
Tomorrow a whistleblower who spoke out about his concerns for the health of those using cancer-causing chemicals to service the State’s fleet of aircraft is facing potential discharge from the Air Corps.
His charge? “Generalised anxiety disorder and work-related industrial dispute resulting in chronic ineffectivity,” according to the report issued ahead of the Medical Board hearing.
In January 2016, this whistleblower wrote a protected disclosure in which
he alleged he was victim to “defamatory allegations” by an official within the Air Corps which the whistle-blower believes “was in effect an attempt to rebuke and intimate me, for highlighting genuine safety concerns”.
While it may be suggested that much of what has been alleged — both in the disclosures from multiple whistleblowers and in the civil cases taken by chronically ill former Air Corps staff — is conjecture, three established facts of this ongoing affair prompt plenty of questions that few are asking.
First of all, it is beyond dispute that there were health and safety failings in the Air Corps. Whistleblower complaints last year led to a series of investigations from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), which threatened legal action unless the Defence Forces implemented its recommended improvements. The Defence Forces accepted this view, and set out a schedule of action to meet the HSA recommendations by the end of this year.
Secondly, an independent report, commissioned on foot of the whistleblower’s complaints, stated that “a problem has arisen in relation to the issues raised by the three informants because appropriate records to demonstrate compliance are not readily available”.
The independent official appointed to review the whistleblower’s claims found no documents that showed the Air Corps was meeting its health and safety obligations.
These two facts — an accepted lack of compliance in 2016, and the absence of any evidence that standards were met in previous years — are all the more concerning when a third revelation is taken into account.
Last month minister of state for defence Paul Kehoe said the State Claims Agency has “conducted Health and Safety Management System audits of the Defence Forces since 2006”.
How is it that “appropriate records” to demonstrate the Air Corps’ compliance with standards were not available to an independent reviewer, and yet the State Claims Agency carried out several health and safety management system audits between 2006 and 2015?
How is it that such an audit was carried out in 2015, and yet, a year later, the HSA found a litany of issues in how staff work with harmful chemicals that required
It suggests two possible scenarios.
One is the State Claims Agency found these issues, flagged it with the Air Corps, and was ignored.
The other is that the State Claims Agency missed the problems found by the HSA.
All the while, the State Claims Agency is fighting six long-running cases in the High Court, taken by men who say they are now suffering cancer and other illnesses due to the Air Corps’
failure to adequately protect them from the chemicals they used daily.
Writing on the McCabe scandal in this newspaper on Saturday, Michael Clifford highlighted how only three TDs backed the garda whistleblower when he first came forward, before his claims were vindicated.
“The shape throwing we’ve seen is all about politics and has nothing to do with the protection of whistleblowers. Everybody is rushing to stand at McCabe’s shoulder,” Mr Clifford wrote.
Only a few notable TDs stand with the Air Corps whistleblowers now. The rest are silent.
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