The sight of bright orange boiler suits caught the attention of the passing public on Wafer Street on Saturday as former members of the Air Corps picketed Minister Paul Kehoe's constituency office. The protest related to members of the Air Corps being exposed to harmful chemicals over a number of years, something which the organisers say has resulted in upwards of 70 deaths.
Organiser of the weekend protest Gavin Tobin is one of seven former Air Corps members who have taken a case against the State, claiming that they have suffered from a variety of illnesses as a result of their unnecessary exposure to chemicals while cleaning and maintaining the force's aircraft.
'I joined the Air Corps in 1989,' he said. 'By 1991 I was suffering from the effects of this. We've had people diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, all manner of unusual cancers, suffer heart-attacks, stress and anxiety related conditions, Crohns disease and many more conditions. These guys were working with these harmful chemicals with no breathing apparatus or eye protection or gloves or anything like that.'
'In 1995, the Air Corps measured the air quality at one of these locations in the base and it was three and a half times over health and safety limits. We've had guys in their 20s having heart-attacks as a result. The average age of those dying is 49.'
Mr Tobin also claimed that chemical names had even been hidden from survivors so they couldn't take the necessary medical precautions. He blasted Minister Kehoe on the issue and called the campaign his 'de-election campaign'.
'He's doing nothing and by doing nothing, he's condemning men to death,' he said. 'At the end of the day, Paul Kehoe is only a mudguard for the Taoiseach anyway. Leo Varadkar is the Minister for Defence and by putting Paul Kehoe in as Minister of State, he takes all the mud that should be directed at Leo.'
Minister Kehoe said that he had met with those who had made written disclosures in relation to chemical exposure, Mr Tobin among them, and had sought legal advice on how best to move forward. In relation to the current state of the Air Corps health and safety, he said that in 2016 he had appointed an independent reviewer to the matter and had initiated an investigation by the Health and Safety Authority. This investigation, he said, was now closed and 'they are happy with the implementation of their recommendations'.
'I've met with this people and gave them an independent review,' Minister Kehoe said. 'To say that I've ignored them is inaccurate. An independent reviewer is looking at the next steps that can be taken. There are seven claims being taken by former and current members of the Air Corps, so I'm limited in what I can say while these cases are ongoing.'
Showing support to the protesters at Kehoe's office was Sinn Féin councillor Johnny Mythen.
'These men were working in extremely hazardous conditions for years,' he said. 'They have lost over 68 colleagues mostly through cancer-related ailments. They are protesting to have their case recognised and processed in a lawful and proper manner by Minister Paul Kehoe and the Department of Defence. To date Paul Kehoe and the Dept have given little assistance to the serious plight of these air corps service men and their campaign for justice and fair play.'