Dáil Éireann Written Answers 12/12/17 – Department of Finance – State Claims Agency – Irish Air Corps

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)


To ask the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 129 of 14 November 2017, if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the State Claims Agency commissioned a retrospective report covering 1980 to 2007 to be carried out by the formation safety office Air Corps on much of Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnell, which was issued on 6 February 2014; if the State Claims Agency carried out actions on receipt of the report such as issuing findings to the Minister for Defence, the Health and Safety Authority, the chief of staff of the Defence Forces or Casement Aerodrome authorities; and if it withheld it for future use or not as it saw fit in legal proceedings being pursued against the State. [53000/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

The SCA have informed me that in answering question 129 of 14 November 2017 it interpreted the request to relate to its audit programme carried out by its Risk Unit. They have also informed me that in August 2013 on receiving a claim in which it was alleged that personal injuries were caused by exposure to toxic substances in Baldonnel, the SCA emailed Litigation Branch and Claims Administration asking that a Liaison Officer (L.O.) be appointed to assist the SCA‘s investigations. The SCA also requested that the appointed LO prepare a detailed claims report setting out the background and circumstances of the claim. The SCA, although not privy to the decision, understands that the Formation Safety Officer was tasked with this request. The SCA subsequently received a report, in April 2014, titled “Chemical Exposure Report (1994-2005) (plaintiff name) Case” which was the only report furnished by the Defence Forces and related specifically to the period 1994-2005. As the report was requested by and provided to the SCA in the context of a claim, it is legally and professionally privileged, referring as it does to all the circumstances of the plaintiff’s claim. This report was prepared entirely for the conduct of the legal proceedings and its use was confined accordingly.


Further explanation: Almost 2 years before multiple whistle-blowers made protected disclosures to the Minister for Defence and over two years before the Health & Safety Authority investigated appalling Irish AirCorps chemical health & safety, the State Claims Agency were aware (after interviewing serving personnel in 2013/2014) that there were continuing serious chemical health & safety breaches in Baldonnel causing ongoing unprotected exposure & injury to personnel.

Rather than be responsible, save lives and do the right thing by informing the Health & Safety Authority that there were ongoing breaches of health and safety legislation at Baldonnel. This included the lack of provision of chemical training and the lack of provision of PPE (both recommended by Forbairt in 1997). The State Claims Agency callously and indeed negligently decided to sit on the report.


Dáil Éireann Written Answers 12/12/17 – Department of Defence – Departmental Reports – Irish Air Corps

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)


To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the chemical exposure report 1994 to 2005 produced in 2014 by a person (details supplied); if a copy of that report was made available to the independent reviewer to allow them carry out a full assessment of the way in which the Air Corps dealt with recent whistle-blowers’ statements; if not, the reason therefor; and if its publication will be authorised. [52875/17]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

I can confirm to the Deputy that my attention has been drawn to the Chemical Exposure Report 1994 to 2005. As I outlined to the Deputy in my reply to Parliamentary Question number 547 of 26 September 2017, the report was undertaken in the context of ongoing legal proceedings. As the report is subject to legal privilege, it was not appropriate to make it available to the independent reviewer. The material used for the purpose of the review by the independent reviewer is listed in an appendix to his report, which is available on my Department’s website.

As the Chemical Exposure Report 1994 to 2005 is subject to legal privilege, it will not be published.


So to paraphrase. An arm of the state withholds an internal legacy health & safety report from a state appointed independent third party investigator, who was appointed to review legacy health & safety of the same arm of the state.

Question : Did Christopher O’Toole know that this document was being withheld and if not why was he not informed. If Christopher O’Toole was informed that this document was being withheld then why did he not state this in his report?


Hexamethylene Diisocyanate – Just one of the toxic chemicals the Irish Air Corps and State Claims Agency want to hide from former personnel!

  1. Exposure can occur when isocyanates are curing or when cured isocyanates are heated.
  2. An individual’s response to isocyanate exposure can be immediate or may be DELAYED FOR SEVERAL YEARS.
  3. Skin exposure can also cause respiratory sensitisation.
  4. The odour threshold for isocyanates, i.e. the level at which an individual can smell an isocyanate, is typically higher than the allowed exposure limits.
  5. The Air Corps did eventually provide a “supplied air” respirator to spray paint & welding personnel. Unfortunately they sourced the “supplied air” from an old machine compressor located in ERF where the air had previously tested as 3.5 times over the allowed limit for Dichloromethane i.e. allowed limit was 50ppm and sourced air was from a location measured at 175ppm…out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Air Corps Hexamethylene Diisocyanate Usage

Hexamethylene Diisocyanates were a chemical component of polyurethane paint hardener used by the Spray Paint Shop (Dope Shop) at Baldonnel. For most of the existence of this shop personnel were NOT supplied with ANY PPE. The walls between the Spray Paint Shop and Engineering Wing Hangar & Workshops were not sealed and so Hexamethylene Diisocyanate and other chemicals entered these workplaces whilst spraying was in progress exposing all personnel.

Furthermore if a component could not be removed from an aircraft for spray painting it was spray painted in-situ in Engineering Wing Hangar whilst unprotected line & tech personnel worked in adjoining offices & workshops or on other aircraft in the hangar.

Visiting personnel to Engineering Wing hangar such as BFTS personnel doing an IRAN, Heli personnel doing an overhaul & even Military Police on a walkabout were also exposed.

A “waterfall” system with an extractor fan was also present. Personnel spray painted aircraft components toward the waterfall which captured most of the over-spray droplets. Fumes from this waterfall were then extracted by a fan, up a duct and released at approximately 3m height where the prevailing winds then carried the extracted fumes in the doors & windows of : 

  • 5th Maintenance Engineers
  • Air Corps Apprentice School
  • Avionics Squadron
  • BFW Stores
  • Engine Repair Flight
  • Old Tech Stores
  • Training Wing HQ Prefab
  • Parachute Shop

5-20% of people are prone to isocyanate sensitisation. and isocyanate cross sensitisation is a recognised phenomenon. Sensitisation is irreversible and unfortunately once sensitised it is next to impossible to avoid isocyanate allergy triggers in the modern environment as they are used to make all Polyurethane products.

It is also likely that health effects are suffered beyond the respiratory system & skin for example the gastric & nervous systems and it is also probable that sensitisation to isocyanates will lead to allergies to other unrelated chemicals leading to a cascade of triggering chemicals allergies & intolerance for over exposed individuals.


Air Corps report ‘not available’ to reviewer

An official tasked with reviewing whistle-blower allegations of chemical exposure within the Air Corps was not given access to the Defence Forces’ own report on the claims, the Government has confirmed.

Six former Air Corps staff are suing the State, claiming their exposure to chemicals while in the Defence Forces caused cancers and other chronic illnesses they now suffer.

Meanwhile, three whistleblowers came forward to allege health and safety mismanagement within the Air Corps, in the years up to 2016. A subsequent inspection by the Health and Safety Authority confirmed many of the complaints outlined in the whistleblowers’ protected disclosures.

A Freedom of Information request earlier this year from Deputy Aengus O’Snodaigh had revealed Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe had been given a copy of a report entitled “Chemical Exposure Report (1994-2005)”.

The Department of Defence, meanwhile, tasked former civil servant Christopher O’Toole with reviewing claims from three whistleblowers who alleged the health of dozens of Air Corps staff may have been seriously compromised by exposure to chemicals used to clean and service aircraft.

In his report, however, Mr O’Toole concluded the terms of reference he was given had been ‘impractical’, and noted that appropriate records to demonstrate the Air Corps complied with health and safety regulations “are not readily available”.

This week, the Sinn Féin TD subsequently asked Mr Kehoe whether Mr O’Toole was provided with a copy of the “Chemical Exposure Report (1994-2005)”.

Mr Kehoe said it would not have been “appropriate” to give the report to Mr O’Toole. “As the report is subject to legal privilege, it was not appropriate to make it available to the independent reviewer,” the minister said.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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Enterprise Risk Management Recognition for the Defence Forces

Defence Forces personnel being presented with certificates from the State Claims Agency in McKee Barracks in recognition of compliance with health and safety management system audit process.

In photo from left to right: Comdt Thomas Farrell (OC Gormanston, Defence Forces), Sgt Gerald O’Gorman (Unit Safety Officer, 30 Inf Bn, Kilkenny, Defence Forces), Fiona Kearns (Senior Enterprise Risk Manager, SCA), Comdt Noel Maher (Defence Force Safety Officer), Cpl Ross Hayden (Unit Safety Officer Air Corps Military Training College), Ciarán Breen (Director, SCA), Brig Gen Peter O’Halloran Assistant Chief Of Staff, Capt Bronagh McMorrow (Unit Safety Officer CIS Group DFTC), Pat Kirwan (Deputy Director, SCA), Comdt Conor Ryan (Formation Safety Officer, DFTC), Paul Burke (Enterprise Risk Manager, SCA)

See State Claims Agency website below…

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Navy (New Zealand) veteran’s landmark compensation deal has others with Parkinson’s fearing trichloroethylene

Hundreds of New Zealanders may have been affected by a toxic chemical in a wide range of workplaces, a Weekend Herald investigation has found.

The discovery follows a landmark compensation pay-out to a New Zealand navy veteran who proved links between exposure to the solvent during his military service and his Parkinson’s disease.

The Herald reported last month that Veterans Affairs has provided the ex-serviceman with an entitlement to disability compensation for Parkinson’s, a condition attributed to his exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) while degreasing and cleaning electronics on a Royal New Zealand Navy ship during the 1948-1960 Malayan Emergency.

The Weekend Herald has since tracked down other men who fear their handling of TCE in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s could have caused their debilitating diseases and who now want to pursue their own compensation cases.

A former New Zealand Post Office telephone exchange technician, a naval dockyards apprentice and an aircraft engineer have all spoken about using TCE in their workplaces for years, without any health and safety precautions.

None of them used gloves or breathing apparatus while being exposed to the potent halocarbon that was popular across an array of sectors and workplaces in New Zealand, including garages, railway and aircraft workshops, and other depots.

“Trichlo was strong enough to bowl you over,” said 65-year-old Steve Walker, an ex-New Zealand Post Office employee at the Balclutha exchange, who now struggles with Parkinson’s. “It seeped into your skin, into your clothes. It took over you completely.”

Dave Schafer, a 58-year-old who used TCE weekly while cleaning instruments on Navy frigates during a five-year apprenticeship at the Devonport naval base, said: “Holy cow, that stuff was powerful. But as apprentices you kept your mouth shut and did your job, you didn’t rock the boat.”

Parkinson’s New Zealand, the Returned and Services’ Association (RSA), and those spoken to by the Weekend Herald, all believe there will be many more New Zealanders – hundreds if not thousands – who have been exposed to TCE over the years.

“Researchers have suggested there could be a significant lag time between exposure to TCE and the onset of Parkinson’s,” said Parkinson’s New Zealand chief executive Deirdre O’Sullivan.

“As such, we have reason to believe there could be many more serving and/or ex-serving NZDF people in a similar situation to this veteran.”

The potentially precedent-setting Navy veteran’s decision was made on appeal to the independent Veterans’ Entitlements Appeal Board, which considered appeals against decisions made under the War Pensions Act 1954.

It was made possible by ground-breaking international research including a major 2011 study on TCE exposure that concluded it was likely to result in a sixfold increase in the chances of developing Parkinson’s.

Read more on the New Zealand Herald’s website


Interesting that the New Zealand Herald article discusses exposure in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. No mention of the 1990s onwards obviously because the industries there using the chemical copped on in the 1990’s.

Unfortunately the Irish Air Corps was still exposing personnel to Trike, (without protection) in ERF / Avionics in the 1990s and well into the first decade of this century and likely elsewhere in Baldonnel & Gormanston


Dáil Éireann Leader’s Questions 30/11/17 – Irish Air Corps

Brendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)

In addition to his other duties the Taoiseach has retained for himself the role of Minister for Defence. It is not clear to me that he takes any real responsibility for the area of Defence. It is not acceptable for a Cabinet Minister to simply delegate the entire responsibility for a Government Department to a Minister of State. The Taoiseach does not answer parliamentary questions on the matter. I do not know if he attends monthly management meetings of the leadership team of the Department of Defence or if he regularly attends meetings with the Secretary General or other senior officials of the Department.

He seems to be sidestepping personal responsibility for his Department. Very serious issues are arising. The wives and partners of Defence Forces personnel are outside the gates of Leinster House this morning to continue to highlight some of these issues, in particular the clear fact that many members are leaving because they cannot live on current earnings. The Tánaiste will tell the House that the matter is being examined by a public sector pay commission, but the Government was happy to act unilaterally in respect of the new Garda Commissioner and the highly paid academics we needed to attract. I believe genuinely that the Government would find consensus in the House for a bespoke pay review for the Defence Forces, which is warranted and urgently required. I cannot understand why it is willing to recognise the Garda associations in pay negotiations but will not do the same for the representative associations of Defence Forces’ personnel.

Reports this week have made it clear that an Air Corps whistleblower faces discharge from the Defence Forces. That a serving member of the Defence Forces can face disciplinary action for chronic inactivity, as it was stated, following a work-related industrial dispute is disconcerting, in particular when it is reported that he has told the Minister of State that he was targeted for raising safety concerns. Mr. Christopher O’Toole has been appointed to examine protected disclosures on the working environment at Casement Aerodrome. It is reported that the terms of reference he was given were impractical. This is all the more concerning now that we know the State Claims Agency carried out a number of health and safety management audits of the Defence Forces and that the Defence Forces can only offer speculative explanations for why prior inspection reports from Casement Aerodrome have gone missing. That is unsatisfactory, especially in the light of the fact that copies of these documents are in circulation among politicians and the media. Efforts to establish whether the documents were deliberately destroyed have amounted to asking the Defence Forces to investigate themselves.

What action will the Government take to ensure every member of the Defence Forces will earn at least a living wage? Will it commit to recognising Defence Forces’ associations in pay negotiations? Is it satisfied that the Defence Forces’ members who met the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, to discuss these concerns are receiving the full protection warranted under the Protected Disclosures Act? Has it considered the establishment of a commission of investigation to establish whether the health and safety management regime at Casement Aerodrome meets the standards of the day and whether the allegations have any credibility?

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The Deputy has asked a lot of questions. If I do not get to all of them on the floor of the House, I will respond having spoken to the Minister of State with responsibility for defence matters. I am personally familiar with some of the cases referred to and previous whistleblowers in relation to issues at Casement Aerodrome. I commit to coming back to the Deputy in detail on these issues.

Brendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)

That is appreciated.

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The Government may have to make decisions on future actions there and we await recommendations from the Minister of State in that regard. It is something in which I have taken a personal interest and of which I have some knowledge, but I cannot go into the detail on the floor of the Dáil.

Seán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)

It needs to happen on the floor of the Dáil.


Alan Kelly (Tipperary,Labour)

Look at what happened in the last week.

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

There will be answers to these questions.

On the wives and partners of Defence Forces’ personnel who are making a point today, I note that successful negotiations with the Permanent Defence Force representative associations have led to significant pay increases under the Lansdowne Road agreement for Defence Forces’ personnel. The public service stability agreement for the period 2018 to 2020 provides for a series of further pay increases in the next three years. Given the ministerial offices Deputy Brendan Howlin has held, he will know of the difficulty in separating one sector from all others for special treatment in public sector pay, but that is what he is asking us to do. There are other issues about what the Department of Defence can do about other supports available to Defence Forces’ personnel. There have been reviews in that regard. There are many sectors in the economy and society that can make a very valid case for improved pay and working conditions. I understand that, of course, the Defence Forces will make that case for themselves through the representative organisations and, in this case, private family members. Of course, the Government will listen. However, we have to operate within a certain pay structure across the public sector. If we were to start to dismantle it for individual sectors, the Deputy knows of the chaos it would cause.

As a former Minister for Defence, I record the Government’s strong appreciation of the role the Defence Forces play. I have visited many peacekeeping missions around the world and had the privilege to spend time with families who have lost loved ones in the service of the country in the Defence Forces. They are valued. We are building personnel numbers in the Defence Forces and the recruitment campaign is a success. We are adding substantially more personnel to the Defence Forces than we are losing and will continue to see that trend develop into 2018.

Brendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)

I appreciate the Tánaiste’s reply and understand he cannot give me a comprehensive response on the Casement Aerodrome issues. I look forward to either a direct briefing or a written response in due course. I have full knowledge of pay issues in dealing with the public service as a whole, but there is a compelling case to be made for separating out the Defence Forces for a bespoke review. I say this in the full knowledge of how difficult it would be. The shockingly low pay levels across the sector are having an impact on retention in key skills areas. When these difficulties arose in the health sector, we managed to formulate a way to deal with them. For example, we had a formula for skilled nurses. We need to recognise what is happening. The fact that the people concerned are not allowed to manifest their voices publicly does not mean that they should be ignored. As such, I ask whether consideration will be given to a unique pay review within the Defence Forces and outside the Public Sector Pay Commission.

Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)

The Minister of State with responsibility for defence matters tells me that this is happening in the context of having special skill sets within the Defence Forces. It is important to note, having regard to the broader arrangements in place, that combined increases in recent months for new recruits have ranged from 8% to 24%, depending on the point on which they are on the pay scales. We are seeing an economy which can afford to pay the public sector more. The bodies which represent members of the Defence Forces have bought into and want to be part of negotiations and their members are starting to benefit, but that is not to suggest there is no frustration in the Defence Forces. However, across the public sector, including within the Defence Forces, deals negotiated with representative bodies mean that we will see continuous improvements in pay into the future, which is positive.

On the Air Corps, the Minister of State has only recently received observations and replies from the three individuals who made protected disclosures on the independent review report which he had commissioned and forwarded to them. Having received responses on the report from the three individuals, the Minister of State will have to make recommendations to the Government. We will make decisions on whether further action is required.

Alan Kelly (Tipperary,Labour)

The Taoiseach is the Minister.




Pressure for probe into Casement Aerodrome health and safety

The Government is under increasing pressure to set up a commission of investigation into alleged health and safety management failures at Casement Aerodrome.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Government has received and will consider whistleblowers’ thoughts on the independent review into their allegations of health and safety mismanagement within the Defence Forces, and recommendations would be drawn up to go to Cabinet on the matter.

It comes after the Irish Examiner revealed how former Air Corps staff are suing the State and claim they now suffer chronic illnesses — including cancer — as a result of the Defence Forces’ failure to adequately manage their exposure to the hazardous chemicals they used to service and clean aircraft.

The Irish Examiner also first reported how three whistleblowers raised concerns about how health and safety was managed in the Air Corps and alleged that missing inspection reports on conditions at Casement Aerodrome were destroyed as part of a cover-up to hide what the Defence Forces knew about the working environment.

Taking leaders questions in the Dáil for the first time as Tánaiste, Mr Coveney said he is “personally familiar” with some of the cases Labour leader Brendan Howlin raised and with previous whistleblowers at Casement Aerodrome.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

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