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Former Air Corps mechanic says fight against State 'back on' after Supreme Court victory

The complainants in this case allege there was a disregard for the safety of young Air Corps members.

A FORMER MEMBER of the Air Corps who alleges that he and some of his former colleagues suffered as a result of exposure to dangerous chemicals at Baldonnel Airfield has said that their fight is “back on” after a Supreme Court victory earlier this week.

On Monday, a five panel Supreme Court hearing unanimously found in favour of the former member, Gavin Tobin, meaning the State must now disclose documents outlining the chemicals that Tobin may have been exposed to while working at the airfield between 1990 and 1999. 

The Court of Appeal had originally said Tobin’s application for discovery was premature. However, the Supreme Court this week decided that the Court of Appeal had erred in its decision and ruled that the documents must now be made discoverable to Tobin along with a number of other men who are suing the State.

Tobin is claiming that the State neglected health and safety rules and exposed him and his fellow workers to seriously harmful levels of toxic chemicals. This continues to be strongly contested by the State.

The whistleblowers in this case allege there was a disregard for the safety of young Air Corps members. According to an online resource created for those who believe they were affected by the chemical exposure, there was:

  • No meaningful chemical risk assessments.
  • No risk specific health surveillance
  • No Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) issued
  • No chemical health and safety training whatsoever
  • No reporting of health and safety incidents
  • No follow up of unusual illnesses by medical personnel
  • Ignoring dangerous air quality reports
  • Personnel doused in toxic chemicals as pranks (hazing) incidents
  • Highly toxic chemicals disposed of onsite in an unsafe manner

In 2017, TheJournal.ie reported how a number of former Air Corps members have made protected disclosures alleging wrongdoing with regard to health and safety in the Defence Forces.

Speaking today, Tobin said Monday’s Supreme Court decision means that his fight can continue.

“It means it’s back on, really. We are going to receive the documents we wanted from the start. We want to know exactly what we could have been exposed to. We think the State is operating its own strategy, trying to delay this as much as possible.

“Since the Government was made aware of this in 2015, a further 22 men have died. We want this addressed as quickly as possible. Essentially, there are some very sick men out there and time is of the essence of them in terms of justice and healthcare.”

A 2016 inspection by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) identified a number of shortcomings at Baldonnel with corrective actions then taken by the Defence Forces in relation to how it handles chemicals.

According to the HSA report seen by TheJournal.ie, the Air Corps was warned it could face prosecution if it did not “comply with advice and relevant legal requirements” about how hazardous substances were managed, among other safety matters.

Tobin said that the State has not offered “an ounce” of healthcare measures since the allegations were presented. 

A previous statement from the Department of Defence read: “The State Claims Agency is currently managing six claims taken by former and current members of the Air Corps against the Minister for Defence for personal injuries alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps in Baldonnel in the period 1991 to 2006. Given these matters are subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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