I wish to assure the Deputy that the health and welfare of the men and women of the Defence Forces is a high priority for me, my Department, and the military authorities.
Given this priority, the former Minister ensured that allegations relating to exposure to chemical and toxic substances whilst working in the Air Corps in Baldonnel were independently reviewed. The independent report which was produced, and to which the Deputy refers, considered the Defence Forces health and safety regime, its current policy and its application and made a number of observations including in relation to documentation, health surveillance, and exposure to monitoring. The report was published on the Department's website following its circulation to those who made disclosures and is therefore available to the agencies referred to by the Deputy.
The Deputy may wish to note that separately from the independent review, following three inspections at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel during 2016, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) issued a Report of Inspection to the Air Corps on 21 October, 2016. This report listed a number of advisory items for follow up, including the areas of risk assessments, safety statements and the provision and use of personal protective equipment.
The resultant Air Corps improvement plan confirmed the Air Corps' full commitment to implementing improved safety measures that protect workers and ensure risks are as low as reasonably practicable.
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.
The Air Corps and the wider Defence organisation is committed to complying with health and safety legislation. The organisation is proactive in ensuring that the best standards are adhered to in order to ensure that the risk to human health is as low as reasonably practicable.
The Deputy will appreciate that as litigation is on-going, managed by the State Claims Agency on behalf of my Department, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.