Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Priority Questions. - Hearing Impairment Claims.

Frances Fitzgerald


18 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Defence the progress, if any, made in establishing a compensation scheme for dealing with deafness compensation. [16775/99]

Work on preparing a scheme of compensation to provide for persons who have genuine hearing difficulties arising from their military service is progressing satisfactorily in my Department.

Deputies will recall that on 20 May 1999, when I last answered questions on this subject, I mentioned that work on the scheme would be influenced by the outcome of the appeal in the case of Hanley v. the Minister for Defence. This appeal, which is critical to the State's strategy for dealing with the Army hearing loss claims, will be heard in the Supreme Court tomorrow, 1 July.

The main issue in the State's appeal of the Hanley case is the scale of damages which has been laid down by the High Court. Given the imminence of the Supreme Court appeal, further comment by me at this time would be inappropriate. However, I hope I may soon be in a position to recommend the establishment of a compensation scheme to the Government.

I am pleased that the appeal will be heard tomorrow. I did not realise it would be heard tomorrow and we will be much wiser when the decision is available. How many cases have been submitted in the past month? What is the latest information on the awards being made in the courts? Has the average award continued to drop in recent weeks?

There has been some publicity recently about a new assessment test for hearing loss which was developed by a university. Has an approach been made to the Minister about incorporating it in the new compensation scheme? Is that appropriate? Does the Minister have any information on this matter and has any decision been made on it?

A total of 100 new cases were submitted up to 25 June. My recollection is that the number submitted in May was approximately 70 while the total in April was approximately 130. The number in earlier months was between 70 and 80. The average is still approximately 100 a month, which is a continuing worrying trend.

The tariffs have continued to reduce. The average is approximately £11,000 per case at present, which is a reduction from the all time high of £35,000 per case a few years ago. However, the legal costs associated with each case have remained static and, therefore, on a pro rata basis the legal costs involved in managing the cases are higher. It is essential to establish an out of court environment to try to reduce the legal costs and to ensure there is an affordable tariff which is fair to both sides.

It is disturbing that 100 new cases continue to arrive in the Department each month. This highlights the urgency of establishing a compensation scheme. Has the Minister made any progress on establishing the tariff or is he awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Court case? Is the Minister encouraging the Minister for Finance to hurry the legislation on a State claims agency to enable more efficient handling of cases taken against the State in defence and other areas? The post-traumatic stress disorder cases taken against the Department of Defence may escalate, and other compensation issues are arising in the Defence Forces at present. How does the Minister see these other cases being dealt with? Will the agency he is going to establish be able to cope with them?

It will deal primarily with hearing loss cases because these are the bulk of the compensation cases before my Department. It is thought the Army Pensions Board will be able to deal with the minority of other types of cases. There are about 21 post-traumatic stress cases altogether and each will be dealt with on its merits. If the out of court environment proves successful we could consider it for other types of cases.