Army Deafness Claims & the role of Independent Newspapers Group

In the early 1990s the Irish Independent & Evening Herald kicked off a campaign of ridicule against the Irish Defence Forces due to the high age profile of Irish military personnel.

In the 1990s Irish Defence Forces personnel were issued with ONE pair of disposable ear plugs annually and were fined if they lost them.

Driven by “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the ranks of the Defence Forces had swelled in the 1970s and with a severe recession in the 1980s personnel were obviously reluctant to leave.  Subsequently the average age of an Irish soldier in the early 1990s hovered around the 42 year age mark.

Being true patriots, the Irish Independent & Evening Herald kicked off a campaign of ridicule against the Defence Forces trotting out “Dad’s Army” headlines and urging the government to reduce the age profile.

Knowing how Independent newspapers group operate they were probably conniving with some political party to bring this about. Perhaps it was Fine Gael who connived with the Indo although later the same newspaper helped topple the FG led rainbow coalition with the infamous “it’s payback time” headline the morning of a general election.

Ray Burke TD had issued an Independent Newspapers group subsidiary “Princes Holdings” with MMDS licences for the rebroadcasting of TV signals across Ireland and the Indo had subsequently gotten a bit upset that the rainbow government had failed to crackdown on community TV deflectors which ate into their MMDS profits.  As it turns out Princes Holdings had issued cheques of £30,000 made payable to “cash” to Ray Burke before he awarded them the licences.

In order to lower the age profile, the Department of Defence had to find a way of encouraging older soldiers to leave so that they could start a recruitment campaign for younger personnel. If any other state or semi state employer at the time needed to reduce headcount they offered a Voluntary Early Retirement (VER) package to entice older personnel to leave but the Department of Defence had a better idea.

Military personnel were in a somewhat insecure position in terms of employment in that they were on rolling contracts some of which were in terms as low as 3-years. It was possible that the Defence Forces could decide that your “service was no longer required” and at the end of a particular contract term you could be refused re-engagement. The Department of Defence decided take advantage of “service no longer required”.

The Department of Defence decided to introduce a stringent annual medical and a stringent annual fitness test. As part of the annual medical they introduced a hearing test and this is where the spectacular own goal kicked into play.

Personnel who had served the Defence Forces during a very difficult period in the history of the Irish state started to be informed that their service would be no longer required because their hearing was not up to the required new standard.

Anyone who served in the Defence Forces during this period knows that Health & Safety was nonexistent. There are stories of soldiers bringing civvy ear defenders to range practice only to be told to take them off because the were not “issued”.  All personnel, including those firing heavy weapons , such as artillery, mortars & naval guns, had to make do with stuffing cotton wool into their ears if they were lucky.

When some basic disposable foam earplugs were eventually introduced there were occasions where these were handed out on the ranges only to be collected again and handed out again “used” to different personnel the next day. Yes, some personnel received disposable earplugs that had been inside someone elses ear.

The Defence Forces commenced informing personnel that their service would no longer be required and indeed some were discharged on medical grounds for hearing loss. This spread panic amongst serving personnel as they faced losing their livelihood in a country still in tough economic circumstances.

When personnel started to compare the printed results of their audiometry tests they started to notice a consistent common pattern in the hearing loss. The loss was most pronounced at the frequency range that matched gunfire.

Considerable rules & military law existed for the protection of hearing in the Defence Forces stretching as far back as the the Defence Act of 1954 but these had been utterly ignored. Similar to how the Irish Air Corps ignored legislation relating to chemical Health & Safety, the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence simply ignored their own rules on protecting serving soldiers hearing to save money.

Internal DoD/DF communications came to light where it was revealed that spending of £2 million on full hearing protection for all personnel was refused on cost grounds.

The threat of job losses spurred personnel to take legal action for the hearing loss they suffered. This later spread to FCA/RDF personnel as they were treated in an equally appalling manner.

Eventually the Department of Defence did introduce a Voluntary Early Retirements scheme which ironically was used to bully Irish Air Corps personnel out of SAR squadron at Baldonnel. A SAR winchman who had been injured likely by exposure to aviation fuel & exhaust gasses was treated as a malingerer and returned from sick leave to find an already completed VER form in his locker…all that was left was to sign the dotted line.

Even today the Department of Defence still try to paint the biggest own goal in the history of the state as a scam perpetrated by soldiers and the Independent who helped kick off the whole scandal are happy to keep spreading this misinformation.

Perhaps the Indo can investigate how thousands of serving, retired & reserve personnel were able to spoof deafness at 4kHz?  Anyone who has ever sat an audiometry evaluation knows that the frequencies are fed to you randomly so either thousands of personnel are pitch perfect at spotting 4kHz signals or perhaps it wasn’t a scam at all and through decades of neglect the hearing of thousands of personnel was damaged.

We know who the courts believed!

Incidentally with 78 untimely deaths in the Irish Air Corps workplace chemical exposure,  the Irish Independent are more than willing to look the other way and completely ignore the tragedy. No shareholders interests are being harmed obviously and you only have to consider their anti Sinn Fein headlines to understand how politically directed the Indo currently are.

Delay – Deny – Die

It is interesting to note that the Independent have trotted out former Minister for Defence Michael Smith and there are two things worthy of note.
Firstly Minister Smith,  who paints himself as a hero who defended state coffers from greedy, cheating Defence Forces personnel, was a member of the Fianna Fail cabinet who struck a deal in 2002 to indemnify religious orders from legal action due to clerical child abuse. It has estimated that this deal which Smith’s cabinet signed off, has cost the state in the region of €1,500,000,000, yes folks Smith was party to actions that left the irish state liable for claims totalling €1.5 billion so far. 
Secondly, a serving member of the Irish Air Corps was knocked down and left for dead in a hit & run collision outside Templemore in October 1994 This man was badly injured suffering fractured eye sockets, haemorrhaged eyes, thirty fractures to his upper & lower jaws, his back was broken in four places, his hips were dislocated and his internal organs bruised.
This motorist drove over his head, did a U turn, stopped to look at him and then drove off leaving him to eventually fall into a coma.
The injured Air Corps technician, who had represented the Defence Forces as an athlete at national level, worked hard to make a good recovery . He subsequently attempted to carry out a fitness test required to extend his contract but the Air Corps refused to allow him take the fitness test saying he wasn’t medically fit to conduct the test.
The Air Corps technician sought the assistance of Minister Smith to intervene and overturn the decision to not allow him to conduct his fitness test but the minister never intervened and the airman was effectively sacked.
The motorist was charged with leaving the scene of an accident/crime by Gardai. The victim’s legal team called the Gardai seeking to know when the case was coming to court, as their client was obviously the chief witness, but the Gardai informed the victims legal team that no date was scheduled. 

It turns out that the information the Gardai passed to the victim’s legal team was untrue and the case went to court a few days subsequent to the phone call without the victim being present. With no witnesses the charges against the motorist were dismissed.

By sheer coincidence the woman who knocked down the Air Corps technician and left him for dead happened to be a niece of Minister Michael Smith, the same minister who would not help him save his job.