When Michael Smith became defence minister in 1997, his first major task was to deal with an onslaught of personal injury claims from members of the Defence Forces.
In an unprecedented move for a government minister, the former Fianna Fáil politician walked into the High Court to plead for the level of compensation awards to come down.
As of today, the Department of Defence has settled 16,829 claims relating to noise induced hearing loss and paid out €290m in compensation.
Included is the €100m in fees paid to solicitors, barristers and medical experts. There are currently five claims pending before the courts.
Speaking from his home in Co Tipperary where he has been cocooning due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Smith recalls one day in particular.
"The department received 40 applications from one legal firm in one day and the only thing different on each of the applications was the names of the soldiers," he said.
The symptoms and description of the cases were nearly identical: "Personal injury claims were rampant when I became minister. To some extent it had got out of hand and one of the reasons was the quantum in the courts for claims, in my view, was extraordinarily high.
"I had no difficulty with people who had genuine claims because they had their hearing impaired by their work, but I do believe a small few may not have been genuine.
"I feel that if you live to 60 years of age and you don't have cancer or heart disease and you are mentally fine, but maybe you have to turn up the radio or television a small bit louder, then you are quite lucky.
"I don't feel society should have to pay for every little thing that is wrong."
The surge in claims was dubbed the "army deafness saga". Between 1992 and 2002, thousands of Army personnel brought claims for hearing loss resulting from exposure to loud noises during military operations.
Soldiers claimed the government failed to provide adequate ear protection and after a few claims were successful before the courts, the Department of Defence was soon inundated.
The watershed moment arrived when one individual was awarded IR£80,000 in the High Court for minor hearing loss. It was later reduced on appeal by the Supreme Court, but after this the floodgates opened wide.
Until then, the department had received 4,000 claims over a period of five years. Within nine months of that court case, it had received a further 4,000 for hearing loss.
The late Fine Gael minister Jim Mitchell, who was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee at the time, slammed the rise in claims. "Anybody who thinks this is not a scam must be blind. We are a laughing stock among defence forces around the world," he said.
Reflecting on the comments, Mr Smith said Mr Mitchell was a "direct kind of guy", and while he "may have been marginally over the top sometimes", he did it for the "most genuine of reasons".
"If you're struggling and a colleague of yours has been to court and has received a significant award, the temptation must be enormous," he said.
"If your colleague is taking a holiday, able to extend the house or buy a new car and it is happening before your eyes, well I'd find it hard to blame someone who is trying to rear a family, struggling to pay the bills [for bringing a claim]. I really feel that it would be hard to come down on them.
"One of the problems overall is there has been a lessening in the morality of claims.
"I grew up in a society where if you fell and broke your leg, it was something that just happened but that doesn't seem to be the case now."
As to whether the Army deafness saga undermined public respect for the Defence Forces, Mr Smith says he doesn't believe this to be the case.
"The finest of people serve in the Defence Forces, then and now," he said.
"I was honoured to be in Kosovo and Lebanon and they represented Ireland in the most positive way, but like everything, scars emerge in different organisations.
"You have to live through that and the vast majority are extremely honourable and need to get the best help and support."
While a faction of the public criticised the soldiers for bringing the claims, some directed their anger at the firms representing them on a no win, no fee basis. Some were accused of soliciting clients and the Law Society of Ireland had to crack down on advertising regulations.
Mr Smith was outspoken on the issue and recalls how he "got into trouble" for comments he made in an interview on a Sunday radio show.
The former minister hit out at the legal fees lawyers were charging their clients and the "unfortunate" advertisements inviting soldiers who had suffered hearing loss to come forward.
"I still stand over the comments," he said.
It wasn't the first time he got into trouble while getting tough on the deafness claims.
Contrary to legal advice he received, Mr Smith took it upon himself to walk into the High Court to air his concerns about the level of awards being paid out. The move was seen by some as an attack on the separation of powers.
"I think it may be the only time a minister was ever to do that kind of thing. It was viewed as interfering with the judiciary but I didn't see it that way.
"I had a simple philosophy," he said. "If you have limited resources as an organisation, you need to devote them to the most essential areas.
"We were anxious to try to support the peacekeeping contingents in different parts of the world, trying to get better equipment, trying to improve very inadequate accommodation. All these things were essential to making the Army stronger and as I saw it, paying out millions in claims was going to hinder all that."
During his tenure, Mr Smith launched a two-pronged assault on the soaring cost of the claims and helped to significantly reduce the level of awards.
He sought to introduce tougher standards for measuring hearing loss and also cracked down on legal fees.
At one point, it was feared more than £2bn would be paid out in compensation. In a bid to prevent the department being crippled, Mr Smith oversaw the introduction of the army deafness early settlement scheme.
It allowed soldiers to settle without resorting to the courts and significantly reduced costs.
On average, soldiers received £10,000 through the scheme, whereas payouts of up to £40,000 were being made by the courts.
According to a spokesperson for the Department of Defence, there are five claims pending before the courts in relation to hearing loss.
"As they are ongoing, it would be inappropriate for the minister to comment further," the spokesperson added.
Ireland's personal injury system has been the subject of much debate as insurance costs continue to cripple businesses across the country.
"In the long run, even though people don't say it that way, the ordinary person always pays," Mr Smith said of the personal injury system.
"It's hard to understand when you sometimes read of the profitability of certain businesses in the insurance area to relate that to the kind of increases being imposed on struggling businesses.
"Different efforts have been made by successive governments but all of us can do better. All of us."