One year on from Supreme Court victory, an Air Corps whistleblower still hasn’t received vital documents

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Gavin Tobin won a Supreme Court case last year.

A WHISTLEBLOWER FROM the Irish Air Corps has said he is still waiting on documents relating to his case to be released by the State despite winning a Supreme Court battle for access to the files over one year ago. 

A number of former Air Corps members have taken the State to court after it was alleged they were exposed to dangerous chemicals while working at Baldonnel Airfield in the capital.

Political pressure has now been applied to the Government to act after a landmark discovery order victory for the activists over a year ago has yet to be complied with.

Last July, 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 any 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 last year decided that the Court of Appeal had erred in its decision and ruled that the documents must be made discoverable to Tobin along with a number of other men who are suing the State.

But over a year later, Tobin and his group of activists have still not received the documentation which they believe has the potential to progress their case against the State. 

Tobin himself told this publication that the delay has come as “no surprise” as it is something which he and his colleagues have been experiencing ever since they decided to take action against the Air Corps.

Last month, The Irish Examiner reported that the High Court will be asked to strike out the Defence Forces’ defence against Tobin’s legal action. This is because the documents have not yet been handed over. That hearing is scheduled for 13 October. The paper also reported that the Defence Forces claimed it could not give a sworn affidavit relating to the case to Tobin because of Covid 19 distancing measures. 

Whistleblowing

Tobin has been collating deaths and injures which he believes are linked to chemical exposure at Baldonell.

He said he had recently recorded the death of another former Air Corps member, who died of throat cancer aged 55. 

The average age of death of the cases recorded by Tobin stands at 50 years old. Tobin believes the number of deaths from chemical exposure could be as high as 80.

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.

In response to a parliamentary question by Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, new Defence Minister Simon Coveney said that all steps to ensure safety at Baldonnel have been followed. 

“The Air Corps improvement plan was implemented over eight phases, which the military authorities have advised are now complete, with phase eight, chemical awareness training and respiratory equipment training, being a continuous process.

“The HSA has formally noted the high level of cooperation received and the considerable progress made to date by the Air Corps in this regard and their investigation is now closed.

“A wide range of other measures are in place to ensure the health and safety of those serving in the Air Corps including monitoring exposure levels, conducting annual occupational medical screening, audits and training.”

In the Seanad last week, Senator Gerard Craughwell asked if the State Claims Agency is hoping that witnesses will die before the litigation is concluded. 

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For Tobin, he believes the strategy is “deny and delay”, which could see witnesses die before procedures are completed. He said he will continue to collect data on illnesses suffered by his colleagues which he believes can be directly linked to chemical exposure. 

A statement from the Department of Defence reads: “Responsibility for personal injuries claims taken against the Minister for Defence is delegated to the State Claims Agency. The State Claims Agency has advised the Department that significant progress has been made in relation to the issue raised and it is expected that matters will be completed in the near future.

“Given that the case is the subject of ongoing litigation it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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