Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Priority Questions
38. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he has received a protected disclosure from a member of the Defence Forces (details supplied); if he has responded to the disclosure; and the action that has been taken on foot of the disclosure. [27762/18]
In December 2017 the Minister of State received a protected disclosure from an Air Corps technician who served between 1991 and 2013. He made very serious allegations as to how his health was compromised in that period and as to how he was victimised as a consequence of the resulting bouts of sickness. What action did the Minister of State take on foot of that disclosure?
As the Deputy is no doubt aware, section 16 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 sets out confidentiality requirements regarding the protection of the identify of a discloser. Therefore it is not possible for me to go into detail on any actions being taken on foot of any individual disclosure so as to ensure that such individuals' confidentiality is not breached.
However, as I have previously stated in the House, the health and welfare of the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann are a priority for the Department, the Defence Forces and me. I am fully committed to compliance with the requirements of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and to the protections contained in that Act. To this end I want to ensure that those making protected disclosures are reassured that, where such disclosures are made in accordance with the legislation, they are and will continue to be dealt with in a thorough and fair manner. I have made it clear to my Department and the Defence Forces that the protections of the Act must be afforded to those who make qualifying disclosures under the Act.
The Act does not preclude the Minister of State from answering the question and saying whether he contacted the person who made this disclosure. It does not preclude him from doing as he did in the past when this House was made aware of other whistleblowers. He met them and dealt with an independent assessor who also met them. In this case, has the Minister of State contacted the person who made the disclosure? Has he had any communications with the person in question other than to acknowledge receipt of his disclosure? Did he make the assessor aware of the case?
This man had major complications and major problems within the Defence Forces and the Air Corps. He was doused with chemicals such as greases, oils and even aircraft fuel. When he complained to the doctors he was told to suck it up, to get back into his uniform and to get on with it or he was called a malingerer or a bluffer. He had to attend a private doctor. He was exposed to chemicals such as trichloroethylene, Ardrox 666, MEK and other chemicals. I am sure the Minister of State is aware, as this man says it in his disclosure, that it was around this time that he began to become sick with symptoms such as diarrhoea, tremors and anxiety. Is the Minister of State aware, or has he taken any action to find out, whether he was victimised and put onto dirty duties such as raking grass and cleaning stairwells and offices using the very chemicals which were affecting his health?
The Minister of State is not precluded because I have not identified the person in question. He is not precluded from saying that he received the disclosure, that he has contacted the person and that it is being dealt with. The Minister of State has had this disclosure for a long time and there does not seem to be any movement on it.
If the Deputy reads the legislation, I am precluded from discussing any protected disclosure from any individual. That is clearly set out in the Act. All protected disclosures which I receive or which are received into my Department are treated as having the utmost importance and go through a clear process within my Department and in respect of all other parties involved. As the Deputy knows, there are a number of legal complexities around all protected disclosures made. There are no clearcut answers to most of them. The Deputy spoke about some of the chemicals being used in the Air Corps. I am at liberty to say that there have previously been some historical parliamentary questions in the Chamber, to which I have replied. I have outlined to all Deputies within the House that I appointed an independent person. I have been in contact with other people who have previously made protected disclosures. I am now seeking legal advice on the best way forward in respect of issues around chemicals and the Air Corps.
At the end of the protected disclosure, which I ask the Minister of State to look at again, this man says that he is in dire financial circumstances. He states that he is due maritime patrol duty moneys from 2009 to 2015. Most other personnel have gotten this reinstated but he has not. I ask the Minister of State to progress that claim without me identifying the person or giving anything else about his identity away. I have permission to give that identity. Perhaps I will do that at another stage. If that alone was done, it might help alleviate the dire circumstances this very ill man is in. I ask the Minister of State, at the very least, to look at that.
I will of course look into the matter if anyone is fairly due moneys. I have no issue with that whatsoever. I will look into that for the Deputy. If the Deputy wants to write to me on that issue, and if he has the permission of the person in question to do so, I have no issue whatsoever in providing a full reply on that specific issue. The Deputy will have to write to me on it, however. I am not going into the contents of the protected disclosure made by this person. It would be totally inappropriate for me to go into the detail of any protected disclosure. I reassure all Members of this House that my Department, the Defence Forces and myself treat all protected disclosures with absolute urgency and that we take every opportunity to deal with them.