Air Corps member ‘penalised’ for protected disclosure

The Dáil has heard that several long-serving members of the Air Corps have been penalised for having made protective disclosures which flagged concerns over health and safety.

An Irish Air Corps workshop in Engineering Wing in 2007

Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit – Solidarity TD, said that the disclosures related to using “dangerous chemicals”, the inability of all members of a team to have children and the lack of oversight of officers who were never held to account.

As a result of “the failure of the top brass”, the Mr Boyd Barrett said, one of the whistle-blower’s “felt that he had to retire”.

The man was unable to bring a case before the Workplace Relations Commission as he was advised, “you’re not an employee, you’re a worker”.

He has now agreed to have his story recounted to the Dáil, Mr Boyd Barrett told the deputies present.

“Sergeant Patrick Gorman served for 35 years in the Air Corps” with “an exemplary conduct rating”, having served in Lebanon, Somalia, Liberia and Chad, sometimes on multiple tours of duty, said Mr Boyd Barrett.

“He blew the whistle about his treatment and the treatment of other members of the Defence Forces… who made protected disclosures and who were penalised as a result.”

Children exposed to ‘contaminated clothing’

“They were wearing gloves, for example, that disintegrated on contact with chemicals that they were been asked to use” on aircraft repairs, he said of Sgt Gorman’s experiences.

“He was working with them for 18 years without a respirator, and it was only in the last two years that they got the respirator.

“In a group of seven people working in the sheet metal structural repair shop, seven of the people couldn’t have children, which seems quite incredible.”

Mr Boyd Barrett revealed that some of the carcinogenic chemicals involved were referenced in the eponymous film about the famous US whistleblower, Erin Brockovich, who successfully sued a utility firm for hundreds of millions of dollars for contaminating drinking water.

“Paint strippers that were banned elsewhere, still being used in the Irish Defence Forces,” he said.

Soldiers were not warned about contaminated clothing which they wore “home to their kids”, and which led to “it being mixed in with the washing of children and the rest of the family, potentially contaminating them with dangerous chemicals”.

Read the full article on the RTE website…

https://www.rte.ie/news/politics/2024/0502/1447056-dail-protected-discolsure/

*****

Sgt Gorman did the right thing in 2015/2016 by making Protected Disclosures to the Minister for Defence and the Health & Safety Authority which resulted in the HSA threatening legal action against Air Corps if they failed to implement urgent chemical health & safety reforms.

The Department’s own “O’Toole Report” and the almost three year HSA interventions fully vindicated Sgt Gorman. However, the response of the Irish Air Corps, the Department of Defence & successive Ministers (Coveney, Kehoe & Varadkar) was to ensure that Sgt Gorman was constructively dismissed.

The Air Corps Toxic Chemical Exposure Scandal broke in the Irish Examiner thanks to Joe Leogue in January 2017. Despite being raised in excess of twenty times in the Dáil, Seanad, Public Accounts Committee and even Varadkar’s confidence motion, this is the first time that RTE have reported on the scandal #106 dead.

Better late then never eh ?

Delay – Deny – Die

British troops ‘knowingly exposed’ to toxic chemical during Iraq war tell of cancer battles and daily nosebleeds

Nearly 100 RAF soldiers were ordered to guard the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in 2003. They didn’t know it was covered in sodium dichromate, a deadly chemical that causes cancer.

Iraq war veteran Andy Tosh points to his nose where he was treated for skin cancer and shows the red marks on his hand.

His health has been permanently damaged – not by the baking heat of the Iraqi desert, he says, but by a toxic chemical at the industrial site he was ordered to guard.

“It’s clear British troops were knowingly exposed,” the 58-year-old former RAF sergeant says.

Sky News can reveal that nearly 100 British troops may have been exposed to sodium dichromate while guarding the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in 2003.

Ten British veterans who guarded the plant have now spoken publicly about their ordeal – and say they feel “betrayed” by the UK government after struggling with a range of health problems, including daily nosebleeds, a brain tumour and three who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Described as a “deadly poison”, sodium dichromate is a known carcinogen. The ground at Qarmat Ali was covered in it, according to the former servicemen.

The Ministry of Defence says it is willing to meet the veterans to work with them going forward – but the former troops say they want answers and accountability.

Before the US took over the site, the water was filtered and treated with sodium dichromate to increase the life of pipelines, pumps, and other equipment.

It’s a type of hexavalent chromium, a group of compounds made famous by the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, which dramatised the contamination of water around a California town.

“I noticed a rash on my forearms,” Mr Tosh said. “I’d operated in other hot tropical countries, I’ve never had a rash like I had on my forearms.

“Other members of our teams had different symptoms but at the time we had no idea why.”

It was a mystery.

That is, until two workers in hazmat suits and respirator masks turned up in August 2003 and put up a sign with a skull and crossbones on it.

“Warning. Chemical hazard. Full protective equipment and chemical respirator required. Sodium dichromate exposure” the sign read.

“We were shocked,” Mr Tosh added. “We’d already been on that site for months, being exposed.

“It was a different type of threat that none of us could really understand.”

US commander’s death linked to sodium dichromate

The plight of US troops who were exposed to sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali is far better documented than their UK counterparts. National guardsmen who visited the site have become ill, leading to a formal inquiry and government support for veterans across the pond.

“While I was at Qarmat Ali, I began suffering from severe nosebleeds,” Russell Powell, an American former medic, told a Senate inquiry.

Within three days of arriving at the plant in April 2003 he developed rashes on his knuckles, hands and forearms, he said. Others in his platoon suffered similar ailments, he added.

Mr Powell said he had questioned a KBR worker about the powder, who said his supervisors had told him not to worry about it.

Speaking at a hearing in 2009 held as part of the inquiry, Mr Powell added: “My symptoms have not changed since my service in Iraq… I cannot take a full breath.” Lieutenant-Colonel James Gentry, of the Indiana National Guard, was stationed at Qarmat Ali in 2003.

“They had this information and didn’t share it,” he said in a deposition video, his face pale as he struggled to breathe. He was referring to contractors KBR.

“I’m dying now because of it.”

Lt Col Gentry died from cancer in 2009. The US Army deemed that his death was “in line of duty for exposure to sodium dichromate”, according to court documents.

Read full article by Michael Drummond on the Sky News website…

https://news.sky.com/story/british-troops-knowingly-exposed-to-toxic-chemical-during-iraq-war-tell-of-cancer-battles-and-daily-nosebleeds-13093915

*****

Ardrox 666, which contains hexavalent sodium chromate, running down the walls of the Irish Air Corps NDT Shop from an extractor fan in 2007

Hexavalent Chromium is & was widely used on a regular basis in the Irish Air Corps. It must be noted the Irish Air Corps ignored the chemical provisions of the Safety, Health & Welfare At Work Acts, 1989 & 2005 until the Health & Safety Authority threatened legal action in 2016 to force them to comply. This was after whistleblowing by a serving Air Corps member who was subsequently constructively dismissed.

Hexavalent Chromium and other very hazardous chemicals were used in the past by teenage apprentice technicians who had no chemical handling training, no education on the short or long term chemical exposure risks as well as no PPE.

Furthermore, when the Irish Air Corps discovered contaminated workshops in 1995 they hid this from personnel. When told by state body Forbairt in 1997 to to give all personnel chemical handling training, issue PPE and train personnel in how to use it they ignored this instruction too.

Some examples of chemical products used in Baldonnel that contain hexavalent chromium (chromates or dichromates) are listed below.

Alocrom 1200

  • Potassium Dichromate
  • Sodium Dichromate

Alodine 600

  • Potassium Dichromate
  • Sodium Dichromate

Ardrox 666

  • Sodium Chromate

Ardrox 670

  • Sodium Chromate
  • LR4871
  • Zinc Chromate

Mastinox 6856H

  • Zinc Chromate

Mastinox 6856K

  • Barium Chromate
  • Strontium Chromate

Mastinox C627B

  • Barium Chromate

Mastinox D40 

  • Barium Chromate

Mastinox JC5A 

  • Barium Chromate

Metaflex 1001 Wash Primer

  • Zinc Potassium Chromate

Metaflex FCR Primer Yellow

  • Zinc Chromate

PR-1422A

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Magnesium Dichromate

PR-1422B

  • Calcium Dichromate

PR-1436GA

  • Strontium Chromate

PR-1436GB 

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Magnesium Dichromate

PR-1436G E2

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Sodium Dichromate

PR-1440B

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Magnesium Dichromate

PR-1750B

  • Calcium Dichromate
  • Magnesium Dichromat

PS-870B

  • Magnesium Dichromate

Delay – Deny – Die

State paid out more than €10m to settle claims against Defence Forces

The State has paid out more than €10m in legal settlements of claims against the Defence Forces in the last four years but faces paying many times that amount in the coming years.

The Department of Defence has admitted that there are a total of 482 current and “open” cases against the Defence Forces. These include personal injury claims and judicial reviews.

It paid out some €10,698,855 in respect of cases taken by current or former members of the Defence Forces from 2020 to 2023.

A spokesperson said this figure represents “the total value of settlements recorded arising from litigation”.

“Any case taken against the Defence Forces, for whatever reason, must be taken against the Minister for Defence because the Defence Forces cannot act as defendants or respondents in cases of litigation.

“The Department of Defence is therefore responsible for the management of all such litigation cases, including those taken by current or former members of the Defence Forces. This litigation includes personal injuries claims.”

Defence Forces Justice Alliance spokesperson Alan Nolan said that in many cases, personnel are forced down the route of litigation.

“This is because the internal reporting and complaints channels are so unfit for purpose, personnel often use litigation as a last resort to seek justice.

The saddest thing is that even when a case might be won or lost, nothing really changes because the State might have to pay, but they don’t have to be held accountable by anybody.”

The Department has also confirmed that anybody suing the Defence Forces will still be able to give evidence in the forthcoming tribunal.

The tribunal is being established to see if the army’s complaints system is fit for purpose. The decision to hold the inquiry followed the publication of a review into allegations of brutal and “sadistic” abuse — including the rape of both male and female soldiers.

A Women of Honour spokesperson said:

“The level of payouts is a small indicator of the wrongs being perpetrated in the Defence Forces. This is a further reason why a full statutory tribunal of inquiry is required to examine what really is going on inside the Defence Forces. Sadly the Forces have become a centre of abuse of all forms and before it can be fully reformed.”

There had been concern among organisations like the Defence Forces Justice Alliance and the Women of Honour that anybody involved in proceedings would be barred from giving evidence.

The Department spokesperson said:

“Such personnel are not precluded from giving testimony/evidence to the tribunal.”

Ultimately, it will be a matter for the chair of the tribunal to determine the extent of the evidence to be heard, the spokesperson added.

Read full article by Neil Michael on the Irish Examiner website…

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-41350498.html

*****

Delay – Deny – Die

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/

*****

Delay – Deny – Die

“I started standing up for myself and the higher ranks came right back at me”

Former army member Alan Nolan voiced his concerns over policy and treatment in the Defence Forces, but instead of being listened to at the time, he was ‘screamed at, shouted at, sworn at’
Alan Nolan, ex-defence forces relaxing at home tying fishing flies. He spoke to reporter Neil Michael. Pic: Larry Cummins

Alan, a former Company Sergeant who left the army in 2017, says his own life was made a misery early on in his career after he tried to have his record cleared of a false report lodged on his military file.

He was reprimanded for being late for work at Collins Barracks in Cork in 1996 the morning after he had spent all night in Cork University Hospital’s emergency department with his young daughter.

Alan disputed the way the matter had been handled and eventually a very senior officer came up with the idea of having the reprimand taken off his military file.

But he later found out it hadn’t been removed and then when he took the matter to the internal Defence Forces Redress of Wrongs process, which is supposed to deal with soldiers’ complaints, he endured “more hell”.

So, by the time he put in a Protected Disclosure in 2017 about deficiencies in the way private medical data is handled in the Defence Forces in addition to other serious wrongdoings, he had given up all hope for any chance of fair treatment in the army.

Painful punishment

However, when he was in the army and working in the Central Medical Unit when the records system was brought in, nobody wanted to talk to him.

He says this attitude was always there, right from the very start of his career.

“I was screamed at, shouted at, sworn at and basically told that I had ‘fucked myself’ and my career by complaining about the way I had been treated in 1996, and on multiple other occasions,” he said.

“They never let me forget it and that culture still exists today.” He fears many other soldiers may also have similar issues in their careers. “You are pulled up out of the blue for no reason. This is especially the case if you dare to stick your head above the army parapet.

“I was always one of those people who believed in and tried to live by Defence Forces values.”

According to the website, these include integrity and the fact that each soldier should be “truthful, reliable and honourable”. Respect is another one, and the fact that each soldier “must treat comrades with dignity, respect, tolerance, and understanding”. Alan said:

I ascribed to all those values but the one I really liked was the Defence Forces’ value for so-called ‘moral courage’. This dictates that you must do what you know is right, not what is easier or popular.

“How wrong I and so many others have been over the years to think about doing what we know to be right when the reality is you will be severely punished for doing just that.

Read full article by Neil Michael on Irish Examiner website…

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/spotlight/arid-41284891.html

*****

“It stops now” indeed…

Delay – Deny – Die

Dáil Éireann Written Answers 12/06/19 – Irish Air Corps – Health & Safety

Aengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)

QUESTION NO: 75

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when he first received the report on the findings of the independent third party appointed to investigate protected disclosures relating to chemical exposure in the Air Corps; the steps he has taken to act on its findings since then; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24571/19]

Paul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)

Three written disclosures were made, in November and December 2015 and January 2016, under the provisions of section 8 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, relating to alleged failings in the Defence Organisation in the area of Health and Safety. Legal advice was sought on how best to progress certain disclosures as elements related to matters which are the subject of the ongoing litigation. As the Deputy will be aware, the State Claims Agency is currently managing nine claims taken against the Minister for Defence, for personal injuries alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substance whilst working in the Air Corps in the period 1991 to 2006.

I appointed an independent reviewer to examine the disclosures. Following receipt of the report of the independent reviewer, which was submitted to me on 19 June, 2016, I invited the views of those who had made the disclosures and published the report. I also sent the report to the Chief of Staff for the views and actions of the military authorities to be set out.

In parallel to the independent review, following an inspection in 2016, the Air Corps had continued to work with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to improve its health and safety regime. I have been informed by the military authorities that the HSA has formally noted the considerable progress made to-date by the Defence Forces towards implementation of a safety management system for the control of hazardous substances. Subject to completion of the improvement plan the HSA investigation is closed. However, it must be noted that in the Air Corps health and safety is a matter of ongoing monitoring, supervision and adjustment.

The matter of the disclosures is receiving consideration in the context of the responses I received from the parties and legal advices in the context of ongoing active litigation…..blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 18 22 men dead since Minister for Defence first notified minister considering report for a year 2-years now. 

DELAY – DENY – DIE

  1. Minister for Defence was first notified of ongoing Health & Safety issues at Irish Air Corps in November 2015.
  2. Twenty Two men have died since this date, three by their own hand. Some of these men could have been saved.
  3. There has been ZERO medical assistance offered to Air Corps survivors.
  4. There has been ZERO assessment of the chemical exposure effects to even serving personnel.
  5. Minister Kehoe is happy to let serving and former Air Corps personnel die while he takes 2 years to consider his next step.
  6. Meanwhile the State Claims Agency who were awarding the Air Corps awards for excellence in Health & Safety while they actively poisoned personnel are frustrating legal cases by tying them up in appeals.
  7. Tune in next year for another bullshit reply in the Dail from Paul Kehoe.

Airlines face lawsuits over ‘toxic’ cabin air

Five of the UK’s largest airlines are facing legal action which claims pilots and cabin crew are regularly exposed to toxic fumes during flights.

The Unite union said legal notice has been served in 51 cases, the majority of which are against British Airways.

EasyJet, Thomas Cook, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic are also subject to the legal action over “aerotoxic syndrome”.

The airlines said that previous studies found no proof of long-term ill-health arising from cabin air quality.

The Unite union, which represents airline staff, claims pilots and crew are exposed to frequent “fume events” when air drawn into the aircraft becomes contaminated by toxic compounds.

The union says the fumes, which originate from the oil used to lubricate the jet engines, contain organophosphates and TCP, and that long-term exposure can lead to chronic ill-health and life-threatening conditions.

“Independent expert evidence concludes that air on board jet planes can contain a toxic mix of chemicals and compounds that potentially damage the nervous system and may lead to chronic irreversible health problems in susceptible individuals,” said Unite’s assistant general secretary for legal services, Howard Beckett.

“The airline industry cannot continue to hide from the issue of toxic cabin air whilst placing the health and safety of aircrew at risk.”

‘No safety risk’

British Airways responded that “none of the substantial research conducted over many years” had shown a link between cabin air quality and ill-health.

“We would never operate an aircraft if we believed it posed a health or safety risk to our customers or crew,” British Airways said.

It also pointed to research by the regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which concluded that the aircraft air quality was “similar or better than that observed in normal indoor environments”.

Inquiry

As well as backing the legal action, the union is calling for an inquiry into the safety of cabin air. It suggests different oils could be used to lubricate engines that are less likely to leak toxic fumes.

It is calling for better monitoring of cabin air and the installation of air filters.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

See list of Aerotoxic Symptoms below…

“Toxic air” claims: Industry “not looking for the evidence”

*****

These cases may be very significant for Air Corps Chemical Abuse Survivors.

Delay – Deny – Die

Army officer’s case over report resolved after High Court proceedings withdrawn

A High Court action by a senior army officer over the State’s refusal to provide him with an independent report into his allegations of corruption and misconduct within the military has been resolved, and the case withdrawn.

The action was brought by the Defence Forces Head of Legal Services Colonel Jerry Lane against the Minister for Defence, Ireland and the Attorney General.

When the case commenced this week, the court heard the proceedings arose over concerns raised by Col Lane several years ago that preferential treatment was being afforded to another member of the Defence Forces to the detriment of other members.

Counsel said in 2010, his client attempted to raise the issue of the other officer’s alleged preferential treatment through the chain of military command, but claimed that nothing was done.

Col Lane’s concerns were that the other officer was selected for, but ultimately did not get, a senior position which Col Lane claimed the other person was ineligible for.

Col Lane, from Bandon, Co Cork, made a protected disclosure to members of Seanad Éireann regarding his concerns which were raised in the Seanad in 2011.

Arising out of the disclosure, he claims he was subjected to a range of penalties, including threats of dismissal and involuntary retirement from the Defence Forces, but those threats were subsequently set aside.

Air Corps whistleblower’s decision to retire “demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process”

The Irish Examiner revealed today that the whistle-blower – one of three who has previously raised concerns about staff’s exposure to chemicals – has announced his decision to retire early.

His decision comes two months after telling Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe that he has not received assurances from Defence Forces hierarchy that he is not being targeted for making protected disclosures.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said a list of deaths compiled by one Air Corps whistle-blower requires explanation.

The list, the existence of which was previously reported in this newspaper, contains the details of more than 70 deaths of former Air Corps staff that the whistle-blower believes may be connected to chemical exposures at the force’s headquarters in Casement Aerodrome.

She described the revelation that a whistle-blower is to retire early as ‘shocking’.

“I’m very concerned about the treatment of whistle-blowers and people making disclosures, as some arms of the public service are not dealing with them as comprehensively or fairly as they should,” Ms Murphy said.

Fianna Fáil Defence spokesman, Jack Chambers, said the whistle-blower’s decision “demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process” and will act as a deterrent to anyone else who is thinking about coming forward.

“This is symptomatic of the general malaise that has been allowed to fester within the Defence Forces under the current Minister. Whistle-blowers who feel that their only next option is to retire demonstrates a dysfunction in the complaints process and it certainly doesn’t encourage others who have issues of concern from engaging with the process.”

Air corps whistleblower was ‘isolated, vilified’

An air corps whistle-blower has written to the Defence Forces Chief of Staff to inform him of his decision to retire early over what he has claimed is the authority’s failure to protect him.

The decision comes two months after the whistle-blower wrote to junior defence minister Paul Kehoe complaining of the “unwarranted treatment” he has received since he submitted a protected disclosure on health-and-safety issues.

In this communication with Mr Kehoe, the whistle blower included signed statements from two air corps personnel, the contents of which, he said, were evidence of an attempt by those in authority to “isolate and vilify” him and turn his colleagues against him.

He is one of three whistle blowers to make complaints about the chemical exposure suffered by air corps maintenance staff, the details of which were first revealed by the Irish Examiner two years ago.

The commanding officer further pointed to previous complaints made against him by the whistle-blower, which he said constitutes “a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour” against him.

The commanding officer further pointed to previous complaints made against him by the whistle-blower, which he said constitutes “a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour” against him.

Read full article on Irish Examiner website below…

*****

If said commanding officer felt he was targeted by a consistent pattern of vindictive and bullying behaviour by a subordinate the Defence Forces have measures in place to deal with such behaviour through military law.

If the commanding officer didn’t act to use existing disciplinary mechanisms against his subordinate why did he introduce such complaints when he himself was being investigated? 

Delay – Deny – Die