Irish Air Corps members allege they were penalised for whistleblowing by loss of retirement ceremony

Failure to invite soldier back for unit presentation is ‘biggest slap in the face’, says airman

Unfortunate “Daft Dave” runs scared after tripping up multiple times…

It has been alleged to the Workplace Relations Commission that around half a dozen Air Corps service members were not afforded a retirement ceremony when they left the service as an act of penalisation for turning whistleblower. The claim was aired after the State failed in a bid to have the press excluded from a whistleblower protection claim against the Department of Defence earlier on Wednesday.

An Air Corps commandant gave evidence that the sort of “unit presentation” complained about would be organised primarily by colleagues and peers, and that there was “no responsibility on anyone” to arrange a retirement party.

Former airman Patrick Gorman claims he was penalised in breach of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 on the grounds that he was not invited back to his former unit to receive a presentation marking his retirement because he made protected disclosures a number of years earlier. His representative, Niall Donohue, told the Workplace Relations Commission on Wednesday that up to six former members of the No 4 Support Wing of the Air Corps, based at Baldonnel Aerodrome, “all got the same treatment” after making protected disclosures, and were prepared to come and testify in support of his claim.

Mr Guidera, appearing instructed by the Chief State Solicitor’s Office, had sought a hearing “in camera” in a motion resisted by the complainant’s representative Mr Donohue.

“This is strictly in the public interest. The facts, if heard, will be greatly appreciated by the public,” Mr Gorman said.

“The biggest slap in the face you could give a soldier who’d served 35 years in the Defence Forces would be to not invite him back for a unit presentation,” Mr Gorman told the tribunal.

Mr Donohue said the alleged denial of a retirement ceremony to the veteran “undermined his reputation in the community of the Defence Forces. Why was this done to him? The answer is it was done to him because he put in his protected disclosure.”

There was legal argument over the interpretation of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 as it applied to a member of the Defence Forces.

Mr Guidera contended Defence Forces personnel only have the status of a “worker” as defined in the legislation – leaving them without the protections afforded to an “employee” in the Act.

Mr Donohue argued that the words “worker” and “employee” in the whistleblower protection law were “interchangeable”.

The adjudicator said he would adjourn the hearing to consider preliminary arguments on the admissibility of the claim, adding that he would decide at that stage whether to call a senior officer as sought by the complainant.

Read full article by Stephen Bourke on the Irish Times website…

https://www.irishtimes.com/crime-law/courts/2024/02/21/air-corps-members-allege-they-were-penalised-for-whistleblowing-by-loss-of-retirement-ceremony/

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Delay – Deny – Die

Ex-Air Corps captain awarded €117,800 over gender discrimination

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered the Minister for Defence to pay €117,814 in compensation to a former female captain in the Air Corps.

WRC adjudication officer, Stephen Bonnlander has made the maximum possible compensation after finding Yvonne O’Rourke was victim to gender discrimination arising from “an unacceptable systematic failure” in the Defence Forces.

After a seven-year battle by Ms O’Rourke, Mr Bonnlander found she was discriminated against on gender grounds in her efforts to secure promotion.

Based at Baldonnell Aerodrome, Ms O’Rourke asserted the Defence Forces discriminated against her on the ground of her gender, in that it treated two maternity leave absences from work as equivalent to the sick absence of a male officer, and consequently gave her a poor performance rating.

The poor rating for 2010 and 2011 impacted on Ms O’Rourke’s ability to go on a mandatory training course which was required to advance to the rank of commander.

Chief Commissioner of the IHREC, Sinead Gibney stated

That Yvonne O’Rourke was treated by the Defence Forces “as if she were a man who had been on long-term sick leave rather than as a pregnant woman”.

By the time Ms O’Rourke was approved by the general officer commanding of the Air Corps to attend the Junior Command and Staff Course (JCSC), her health had deteriorated to the point that she was unable to take up the opportunity and was later retired from the Defence Forces on the grounds of ill health in July 2016.

In a hard-hitting ruling, Mr Bonnlander stated “It beggars belief that women should have been serving in the Irish Defence Forces for decades, without the Forces’ systems and instruction ever having been appropriately updated to ensure they reflect anti-discrimination law as it applies to pregnancy and maternity”.

The hearing at the WRC for Ms O’Rourke’s case against the Minister for Defence spanned six days.

In the long-running action, Ms O’Rourke was represented by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), which instructed a senior and junior counsel in the case.

Speaking today, Ms O’Rourke stated:

“I hope that what has been achieved in this outcome and  determination will shine some light on the areas of darkness that needed to be revealed within the Irish Defence Forces. I hope that this small victory will somewhat; smooth the path, pave the way forward, and inspire those left behind, to have their difficulties, hurts, issues and problems of; discrimination, victimisation, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment heard and subsequently addressed in a more expedient fashion than my seven-year struggle.”

Read full report on Irish Times website below

European Commission – Pregnant Worker Directive 92/85/EC

Directive 92/85/EC – Pregnant Workers

Introduced 19th of October 1992

Pregnant woman standing outside on a sunny day

Objective

The objective of this Directive is to protect the health and safety of women in the workplace when pregnant or after they have recently given birth and women who are breastfeeding.

Contents

Under the Directive, a set of guidelines detail the assessment of the chemical, physical and biological agents and industrial processes considered dangerous for the health and safety of pregnant women or women who have just given birth and are breast feeding.

The Directive also includes provisions for physical movements and postures, mental and physical fatigue and other types of physical and mental stress.

Pregnant and breastfeeding workers may under no circumstances be obliged to perform duties for which the assessment has revealed a risk of exposure to agents, which would jeopardize their safety or health. Those agents and working conditions are defined in Annex II of the Directive.

Member States shall ensure that pregnant workers are not obliged to work in night shifts when medically indicated (subject to submission of a medical certificate).

Employers or the health and safety service will use these guidelines as a basis for a risk evaluation for all activities that pregnant or breast feeding workers may undergo and must decide what measures should be taken to avoid these risks. Workers should be notified of the results and of measures to be taken which can be adjustment of working conditions, transfer to another job or granting of leave.

The Directive grants maternity leave for the duration of 14 weeks of which 2 weeks must occur before birth.

Women must not be dismissed from work because of their pregnancy and maternity for the period from the beginning of their pregnancy to the end of the period of leave from work.

Annex I – Non exhaustive list of agents and working conditions referred to in Art.4 of the directive (assessment and information)

A. Agents

1. Physical agents where these are regarded as agents causing foetal lesions and/or likely to disrupt placental attachment, and in particular:

(a) shocks, vibration or movement;

(b) handling of loads entailing risks, particularly of a dorsolumbar nature;

(c) noise;

(d) ionizing radiation (*);

(e) non-ionizing radiation;

(f) extremes of cold or heat;

(g) movements and postures, travelling – either inside or outside the establishment – mental and physical fatigue and other physical burdens connected with the activity of the worker within the meaning of Article 2 of the Directive.

2. Biological agents

Biological agents of risk groups 2, 3 and 3 within the meaning of Article 2 (d) numbers 2, 3 and 4 of Directive 90/679/EEC (¹), in so far as it is known that these agents or the therapeutic measures necessitated by such agents endanger the health of pregnant women and the unborn child and in so far as they do not yet appear in Annex II.

3. Chemical agents

The following chemical agents in so far as it is known that they endanger the health of pregnant women and the unborn child and in so far as they do not yet appear in Annex II:

(a) substances labelled R40 (limited evidence of a carcinogenic effect), R45 (May cause cancer), R46 (May cause inheritable genetic damage), and R47 (May cause birth defects) under Dangerous Substances Directive (67/548/EEC) in so far as they do not yet appear in Annex II;

(b) chemical agents in Annex I to Directive 90/394/EEC (Protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens) ;

(c) mercury and mercury derivatives;

(d) antimitotic drugs;

(e) carbon monoxide;

(f) chemical agents of known and dangerous percutaneous absorption.

B. Processes

Industrial processes listed in Annex I to Directive 90/394/EEC.

C. Working conditions

Underground mining work.

Annex II – Non exhaustive list of agents and working conditions referred to in Art.6 of the directive (cases in which exposure is prohibited)

A. Pregnant workers within the meaning of Article 2 (a)

1. Agents

(a) Physical agents

Work in hyperbaric atmosphere, e.g. pressurized enclosures and underwater diving.

(b) Biological agents

The following biological agents:

– toxoplasma,

– rubella virus,

unless the pregnant workers are proved to be adequately protected against such agents by immunization.

(c) Chemical agents

Lead and lead derivatives in so far as these agents are capable of being absorbed by the human organism.

2. Working conditions

Underground mining work.

B. Workers who are breastfeeding within the meaning of Article 2 (c)

1. Agents

(a) Chemical agents

Lead and lead derivatives in so far as these agents are capable of being absorbed by the human organism.

2. Working conditions

Underground mining work.

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The Irish Army Air Corps only started carrying out “adequate” risk assessments in the past year so for 25 years pregnant females at Baldonnel were dangerously exposed to Carcinogens, Mutagens & Teratogens.

Any pregnant females working in proximity to running aircraft or aircraft being refueled, such as in the ramp area, or downwind of the ramp were exposed.

  • Exhaust gasses contain Carbon Monoxide as well as TetraEthyl Lead and other hydrocarbon fumes.
  • AVGAS – 100LL  refuelling fumes contained Gasoline, Tetraethyl Lead, Toluene, Xylene, Ethylbenzene, Cyclohexane, n-Hexane, Trimethylbenzene, Naphthalene and Isopropylbenzene.
  • AVTUR – Jet A1 refueling fumes contain Kerosine, Ethylbenzene, Xylene and Isopropylbenzene.
  • Fuel System Anti Icing additives used by the Irish Army Air Corps included 2-(2-methoxyethoxy)ethanol which is a known to cause reproductive and developmental toxic effects.

Furthermore pregnant females working in or entering into Avionics, ERF or Engineering Wing hangar were being exposed to further known Carcinogens, Mutagens and Teratogens including Dichloromethane, Isocyanates & Trichloroethylene to name but a few.

Due to the fact that the working dress & overalls of technicians were (and still are) brought home to be washed in domestic family washing machines it is extremely likely that pregnant spouses & partners of Air Corps personnel were also affected.

This may have lead to miscarriages, stillbirths, lifelong genetic diseases & developmental conditions such as autism in the children of personnel.

European Commission – Young people at work directive (94/33/EC)

Directive 94/33/EC – Protection of Young people at work

Introduced 22nd June 1994

Objective

The aim of this Directive is to lay down minimum requirements for the protection of young people at work.

Definitions

The directive gives legal definitions for the terms “child”, “adolescent”, “young person”, “light work”, “working time” and “rest period”.

Contents

Member States shall take the necessary measures to prohibit work by children. They shall ensure, under the conditions laid down by this Directive, that the minimum working or employment age is not lower than the minimum age at which compulsory full-time schooling – as imposed by national law – ends or 15 years in any event.

This Directive shall apply to any person under 18 years of age having an employment contract or an employment relationship defined by the law in force in a Member State and/or governed by the law in force in a Member State. Exceptions can be adopted by Member States for occasional work or short-term work, involving domestic service in a private household or work regarded as not being harmful, damaging or dangerous to young people in a family undertaking.

The Directive defines “young people” as people under the age of 18 and “children” as young people under the age of 15 or who are still in full-time compulsory education in accordance with national legislation. Adolescents are young people between the ages of 15 and 18 who are no longer in full-time compulsory education in accordance with national legislation.

Member States may make legislative exceptions for the prohibition of work by children not to apply to children employed for the purposes of cultural, artistic, sporting or advertising activities, subject to prior authorisation by the competent authority in each specific case; to children of at least 14 years of age working under a combined work/training scheme or an in-plant work-experience scheme, provided that such work is done in accordance with the conditions laid down by the competent authority; and to children of at least 14 years of age performing light work. Light work can also be performed by children of 13 years of age for a limited number of hours per week in the case of categories of work determined by national legislation.

‘Light work’, as defined in the Directive, shall mean all work which, on account of the inherent nature of the tasks which it involves and the particular conditions under which they are performed is not likely to be harmful to the safety, health or development of children, and is not such as to be harmful to their attendance at school, their participation in vocational guidance or training programmes approved by the competent authority or their capacity to benefit from the instruction received.

Employers shall adopt the measures necessary to protect the safety and health of young people, taking particular account of the specific risks which are a consequence of their lack of experience, of absence of awareness of existing or potential risks or of the fact that young people have not yet fully matured. Employers shall implement such measures on the basis of a comprehensive assessment of the hazards to young people in connection with their work according to Art 6/2 of the Directive. The assessment must be made before young people begin work and when there is any major change in working conditions.

The employer shall inform young people and their representatives of possible risks and of all measures adopted concerning their safety and health.

Member States shall prohibit the employment of young people for:

  • work which is objectively beyond their physical or psychological capacity;
  • work involving harmful exposure to agents which are toxic, carcinogenic, cause heritable genetic damage, or harm to the unborn child or which in any other way chronically affect human health;
  • work involving harmful exposure to radiation;
  • work involving the risk of accidents which it may be assumed cannot be recognised or avoided by young persons owing to their insufficient attention to safety or lack of experience or training;
  • or work in which there is a risk to health from extreme cold or heat, or from noise or vibration.

In addition, the Directive contains provisions relating to working hours, night work, rest periods, annual leave and rest breaks.

Each Member State is responsible for defining the necessary measures applicable in the event of infringement of the provisions of this Directive; these measures must be effective and proportionate to the offence.

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It appears the Air Corps failed this directive as soon as young people (apprentices) set foot inside the gates of Casement Aerodrome. At the of time this European Commission directive was issued crumbling asbestos on central heating pipework was present in all 4 landings of the old hostel apprentice accommodation. In fact in previous years apprentices were ordered to carry out asbestos removal without any training, PPE or health surveillance. 

Please also note that on the 11th of September 2017 the HSA wrote to the Irish Army Air Corps requesting….

It should be confirmed that the findings of Asbestos Surveys for relevant buildings at the facility, or the corresponding Registers of Asbestos-Containing Materials {ACMs), have been brought to the attention of  building managers and/or incorporated into the building management system. You are referred to relevant HSA published guidance – Practical Guidelines on ACM Management and Abatement, Section 7.

Irish Army Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure – Survivors List of Demands

The priorities of the Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors is firstly to prevent further unnecessary loss of life amongst survivors and secondly to improve the quality of life of survivors by reducing unnecessary suffering.

Both the Royal Australian Air Force & the Armed forces of the Netherlands have offered templates as to how to approach unfortunate workplace chemical exposure issues with competence, fairness, justice & urgency.

We urge that all responsible organisations in the state such as political parties, government departments and the Defence Forces to work together to commit the state to provide the following for survivors as an ex. gratia scheme with no admission of liability by the state.

Current & future legal cases should be allowed to take their natural course unhindered whilst all survivors are cared for equally by the state.

Read more about our demands below.

Human rights of members of the armed forces

Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on human rights of members of the armed forces

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 24 February 2010 at the 1077th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

J-51.  Current and, where applicable, former members of the armed forces should have access to information with regard to their exposure during service to situations, either past or present, which were or are potentially hazardous to their health.

When public authorities, including military authorities, engage in hazardous activities which might have latent adverse effects on health, they should put in place an accessible and efficient procedure which enables persons involved in such activities to access all relevant and appropriate information.

In addition, authorities should not only to disclose this type of information, but also to refrain from imposing a long and complex procedure to obtain such information.

Minister Paul Kehoe T.D. appears to be in breach of the human rights of Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors as his department refuses to inform military personnel who served in the Irish Army Air Corps of the hazardous & toxic chemicals they were actually exposed to in the working environment.