7. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Chemical Exposure Report 1994-2005 will be released in order to provide former members of the Air Corps who are now chronically ill with information relating to the level of exposure they suffered in view of his recent call for candour and transparency in cases regarding the health of persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 20216/18 asked on 10 May 2018)
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: This relates to a matter that has been ongoing for a while. Given the current controversy around the checks for cervical cancer, there is a need for transparency in publishing reports that will help people suffering health consequences so they can manage future health needs.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: The Deputy will be aware that the State Claims Agency is currently managing seven claims taken against the Minister for Defence for personal injuries alleging exposure to chemical and toxic substance while working in the Air Corps in the period 1991 to 2006. The management of such claims lodged against the Minister for Defence is delegated to the State Claims Agency. As I outlined to the Deputy in my replies to his parliamentary questions on 26 September 2017 and 12 December 2017, the report referenced was undertaken in the context of legal proceedings. As the report was requested by and provided to the State Claims Agency in the context of a claim, it is legally and professionally privileged. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to release it.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: The Minister of State has previously stated, and he has done so now again, that it is not appropriate to publish the report. This is even when an independent reviewer was looking at the whistleblower’s claims. The Minister of State did not even supply him with the report in question, the Chemical Exposure Report 1994-2005. This is potentially catastrophic for some of those making claims and also for some who are not making claims. Not everybody exposed to chemicals in that period is making a claim against the State but they are seeking information on what they were exposed to and what damage it could do to their health.
The State Claims Agency, which is involved with the current scandal in the media, has fought these men tooth and nail. It has fought to the level of the High Court the production of a list of chemicals used in Baldonnel in that period. That list alone could save lives. Given the current debacle with cervical smear tests, I ask the Minister of State to think again about the withholding of information that can affect people’s lives and future health. This is wrong and it should be stopped.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: The Deputy is trying to link two very distinct matters. The allegations referred to by the Deputy are historic and this is further complicated as causation has not been established as of yet. I have been very proactive in this matter. When the protected disclosures were submitted to the Department of Defence - there were two in 2015 and one in 2016 - I was briefed on the matter in June 2016. I set up an independent inquiry and met some of the people who made the disclosures. I received the report and I got the views of the people who made the protected disclosures. I sent the report for legal advice and I received that in the past number of days. Before making any further decision on the course of action, a number of legal issues must be finalised. I expect that following the report I will act as soon as possible.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: We visited the Baldonnel aerodrome recently and I can see the huge progress in comparison with photographs I have seen of workshops in the past. Why is the default position of the State always to close ranks and withhold information? The longer one withholds information, the worse some of the health complications could get. Whether they are related to exposure is up to medics, but they cannot find this out if the information is not there and they cannot do the required checks for the chemicals to which I have been told that people have been exposed. Major dangers and cancers can result from those and I appeal to the Minister of State to ask the State Claims Agency to look properly and more openly at this and not to fight it tooth and nail. There is an urgency involved given that we are talking about the lives of men and women being at risk.
Deputy Paul Kehoe: The health and well-being of any member of the Defence Forces is a priority of mine and of military management. I am glad the Deputy recognises the progress in the Air Corps at Baldonnel. It is one of the reasons I instructed the General Officer Commanding, Sean Clancy, to host a visit for Members of the Oireachtas committee so they could see for themselves the progress out there.
I am also reassured current practices have been subject to Health and Safety Authority oversight. There has been considerable progress and subject to completion of an improved plan, it will close its investigation. I am considering the findings of the investigation report that I got and I will make a decision on this. I understand where the Deputy is coming from but I have a duty as well. The Deputy is trying to link two very distinct and different matters in cervical cancer and the issue we are discussing now.