Air Corps members allege they were penalised for whistleblowing by loss of retirement ceremony

Failure to invite soldier back for unit presentation is ‘biggest slap in the face’, says airman

It has been alleged to the Workplace Relations Commission that around half a dozen Air Corps service members were not afforded a retirement ceremony when they left the service as an act of penalisation for turning whistleblower. The claim was aired after the State failed in a bid to have the press excluded from a whistleblower protection claim against the Department of Defence earlier on Wednesday.

An Air Corps commandant gave evidence that the sort of “unit presentation” complained about would be organised primarily by colleagues and peers, and that there was “no responsibility on anyone” to arrange a retirement party.

Former airman Patrick Gorman claims he was penalised in breach of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 on the grounds that he was not invited back to his former unit to receive a presentation marking his retirement because he made protected disclosures a number of years earlier. His representative, Niall Donohue, told the Workplace Relations Commission on Wednesday that up to six former members of the No 4 Support Wing of the Air Corps, based at Baldonnel Aerodrome, “all got the same treatment” after making protected disclosures, and were prepared to come and testify in support of his claim.

“The biggest slap in the face you could give a soldier who’d served 35 years in the Defence Forces would be to not invite him back for a unit presentation,” Mr Gorman told the tribunal.


Mr Donohue said the alleged denial of a retirement ceremony to the veteran “undermined his reputation in the community of the Defence Forces. Why was this done to him? The answer is it was done to him because he put in his protected disclosure.”

State counsel Hugh Guidera has argued Mr Gorman is too late to make a penalisation claim as the former airman commenced proceedings with a statutory complaint in November 2022, nearly 2½ years on from his retirement.

The complainant’s position was that he did not become aware there would be no presentation made to him until he learned in October 2021 that an order was being placed for clocks marking other retirements from his former unit.

The second-in-command of the No 4 Support Wing, Commandant David Brennan, gave evidence on Wednesday that the sort of “unit presentation” Mr Gorman was complaining about would be “organised primarily by their colleagues and peers”, and that there was “no responsibility on anyone” to arrange a retirement party.

Commandant Brennan said he did not make a decision not to have a unit presentation for Mr Gorman; that he was not aware of any such decision, and that he did not know about any protected disclosures by the complainant prior to the WRC complaint. In answer to questions from the adjudicator, he said unit presentations were “a standard practice” but that some service members “don’t like the fuss” and “might have a local affair with close colleagues external to the Air Corps”.

Cross-questioning the witness, Mr Donohue said: “So, your position is that the whole matter of retirement [events] in the Defence Forces is ad-hockery?”

“It’s not,” Commandant Brennan replied.

“What is it?” the representative asked.

“It’s generally done by colleagues and peers in the unit as a mark of respect in and around the time of retirement,” he said.

However, he accepted there were occasions where a parade would be organised at headquarters level to mark a retirement.

The State admits that certain reports made by Mr Gorman in 2014 and 2015 were protected disclosures, though no details of their content were made public at the hearing.

Mr Guidera, appearing instructed by the Chief State Solicitor’s Office, had sought a hearing “in camera” in a motion resisted by the complainant’s representative Mr Donohue.

“This is strictly in the public interest. The facts, if heard, will be greatly appreciated by the public,” Mr Gorman said.

Adjudicator Michael MacEntee directed a representative of the press to leave the hearing room for a time shortly before noon. Proceedings continued behind closed doors for a short time, with a brief recess following, before Mr McEntee reopened the case in public.

Mr Guidera has also argued that Mr Gorman has no right to make a penalisation claim at the WRC because he was a member of the Defence Forces – and that he served notice of claim too long after the events for the tribunal to have any jurisdiction in the matter.

There was legal argument over the interpretation of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 as it applied to a member of the Defence Forces. Mr Guidera contended Defence Forces personnel only have the status of a “worker” as defined in the legislation – leaving them without the protections afforded to an “employee” in the Act.

Mr Donohue argued that the words “worker” and “employee” in the whistleblower protection law were “interchangeable”.

The adjudicator said he would adjourn the hearing to consider preliminary arguments on the admissibility of the claim, adding that he would decide at that stage whether to call a senior officer as sought by the complainant.

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