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 Header Item Topical Issue Matters (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2017: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Protected Disclosures

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 4

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  3 o’clock

Estimates for Public Services 2017: Message from Select Committee

Acting Chairman (Deputy Frank O'Rourke): Information on Frank O'Rourke Zoom on Frank O'Rourke The Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2017 - Vote 30.

Topical Issue Debate

Protected Disclosures

Deputy Lisa Chambers: Information on Lisa Chambers Zoom on Lisa Chambers Newspaper reports yesterday again raised the issue of one of the Air Corps whistleblowers who is now facing discharge from his employment. Recent events have focused the mind on the failure of the State with regard to whistleblowers and the consequences for those in charge who fail to act. I am deeply concerned that a whistleblower in the Air Corps is facing dismissal from his job for what appear to be issues directly relating to the very issue he raised with the Minister of State on which he had to blow the whistle.

The charge against him is "generalised anxiety disorder and work-related industrial dispute resulting in chronic ineffectivity". I have raised this issue with the Minister of State many times and I am not satisfied with his response and his actions to date on the matter. He has not dealt effectively with the health and safety issues relating to chemicals at Casement Aerodrome that have affected the members serving there at that time. The review the Minister of State initiated produced no answers. There have been no actions to date and we are in exactly the same position today as we were when I first raised the issue in the Dáil.

The Minister of State has not ordered a full health review of people affected. He has not engaged effectively with those affected. The review is quite farcical because the person tasked with the reviewing the issue told the Minister of State that he did not have the information or the capability to do what was asked.

The issue stands. The individual in question has been summoned before a Defence Forces medical review board for medical issues he feels the State actually caused. His case against the State and the issue he raised with the Minister of State is that he is incredibly sick because of the failure of the State to provide him with a safe workplace. It is incredible to think that he could now be dismissed from his job because of those health issues.

Given all that has gone on regarding this issue, is the Minister of State satisfied that this person has been summoned to appear before a medical review board and may lose his job over the matter? What engagements has the Minister of State had on the issue? What will he do to address the matter?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh In July, I asked the Minister of State the reason the Air Corps was proceeding with attempts to medically dismiss a serving Air Corps health and safety whistleblower, whom the Minister of State had met shortly before, in direct contravention of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. In reply the Minister of State stated:

The Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate of me to comment on individual personnel cases. However, I can assure the Deputy that the Defence Forces and my Department are fully committed to compliance with the requirements of the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014, and to the protections contained in that Act.

The articles in the Irish Examiner yesterday and today show a clear breach of the spirit and the letter of those protected disclosures. As Deputy Lisa Chambers has outlined, the man in question appeared before a medical hearing this morning in St. Bricin's Military Hospital for the very reason he met the Minister of State - that there was something rotten in the Air Corps in terms of health and safety, as he and other whistleblowers had outlined. His medical condition and others are directly related to mass exposure to highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.

  What steps has the Minister of State taken to ensure the Defence Forces as a whole, and therefore those involved in this individual case, understand that they must fully comply with the Protected Disclosures Act 2014?

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I thank the Deputies for raising this very important issue. I am fully committed to compliance with the requirements of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and to the protections contained in that Act. I have directed that processes are put in place to manage protected disclosures across the defence organisation, on both civil and military sides.

The health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces are a priority to me. To this end, I wish to ensure that all protected disclosures made by members of the Defence Forces are and continue to be dealt with in a thorough, fair and independent manner.

I am assured by the Chief of Staff that the military authorities are fully aware of the protections afforded to their members under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. In order to ensure compliance with this legislation the Defence Forces have implemented general routine order 07/2015, which sets out the policy, procedures and protections afforded to serving personnel on making a protected disclosure. The document was signed and promulgated on 21 August 2015. The Defence Forces are committed to the highest possible standards of compliance with our legal requirements. Their protected disclosures policy is intended to encourage and enable members of the Defence Forces to raise concerns about relevant wrongdoing in the organisation.

The Defence Forces are committed to ensuring that members making a disclosure under the Act will be protected from penalisation or threat of less favourable treatment, subsequent discrimination or disadvantage. The Defence Forces protected disclosures policy gives effect to the obligations and provisions of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and does not replace any legal reporting or disclosure requirements arising under other legislation. The Defence Forces remain cognisant of the requirement to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all members. The Defence Forces policy on protected disclosures is intended to cover all aspects of Defence Forces activity including operations outside of Ireland.

Regarding the matter raised by the Deputies, life within the Defence Forces, particularly at operational level, can be physically robust and challenging. To ensure that the health and safety of individuals and those of his or her colleagues are safeguarded, the monitoring of medical status is an important safeguard in military life. Defence Forces regulation A12 provides the regulatory framework for medical treatment in the Defence Forces. These regulations provide for the convening of a medical board in specific circumstances. This can lead to a range of outcomes, including individuals being classed as below Defence Forces medical standards. It is important to note that this is not a disciplinary procedure and among other things it provides a mechanism for appropriately managing cases of long-term sick leave.

Issues of confidentiality are of the utmost importance in dealing with matters such as those raised in this Topical Issue. Individuals are entitled to confidentiality regarding their personnel dealings with their employer, their medical dealings and in other areas such as litigation and protected disclosures. Accordingly, I am severely constrained in what I can say here today. While I cannot discuss medical and other personal details of an individual, I can inform the Deputies that in the case referred to, my overarching concern is that the individual’s rights under protected disclosure legislation are fully protected. I have previously written to the Chief of Staff in this regard, highlighting the requirements for full compliance with protected disclosure legislation.

I have recently written to the Chief of Staff restating my position that the individual concerned is afforded the full protection of the Protected Disclosure Act. I have made clear that no action should be taken that would impinge on his rights in accordance with protected disclosure legislation. I assure the Deputies that, if required, I will take whatever actions are available to me in order to ensure that all individuals who make protected disclosures receive the protection of that legislation.

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