Air Corps failed to comply with Supreme Court order in chemicals exposure case

Former aircraft mechanic Gavin Tobin alleges exposure to dangerous chemicals led to severe health issues

The Air Corps has failed to comply with a Supreme Court order to hand over safety documents to a former aircraft technician suing over his exposure to dangerous chemicals, a judge has ruled.

Gavin Tobin is one of about 11 former Air Corps members who allege continuous exposure to chemicals used in the maintenance of aircraft has led to severe health issues. His case, which was lodged in 2014, has been referred to as test case for the others.

Mr Tobin joined the Air Corps in 1989 as an apprentice aircraft mechanic and was based in Baldonnell until leaving service in 1999. He claims during his service he was exposed to dangerous chemicals on an ongoing basis which resulted in severe personal injury.

Mr Tobin alleges that his employers “failed to provide him with a safe place of work, a safe system of work, safe and proper equipment, appropriate training, and safe and competent co-workers.”


Last month’s ruling by Mr Justice Mark Heslin is the latest is a long-running legal battle over what documents the Air Corps is required to hand over to Mr Tobin as part of discovery in advance of a full civil trial.

The Air Corps was originally ordered by the High Court to make full discovery relating to the chemicals to which Mr Tobin was exposed during this time in the maintenance section. This was overturned by the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court later confirmed the original order requiring broad-ranging disclosure.

Mr Tobin then received a substantial amount of documents, numbering over 1,200 pages. However these did not include some potentially important files, including safety certificates for the chemicals used by the Air Corps.

The Air Corps claimed it could not hand over the documents as they had been lost or destroyed in the intervening years. It also claimed it is under no obligation to seek replacements for these documents from the chemicals’ manufacturers.

Mr Justice Heslin ruled that this was an unreasonable position and that the Air Corps has failed to make proper discovery of documents.

The Air Corps must surely have a list of the chemicals it has purchased over the years, he ruled. Therefore it should be relatively easy for the organisation to source the corresponding safety documents, either from the manufacturers or other sources.

The Air Corps “could have made, but neglected to make, appropriate searches including via third parties,” the judge said.

However he did not rule that the Air Corps had deliberately suppressed documents and said that a fair trial on the issue is still possible.

As part of its defence, the Air Corps has claimed Mr Tobin’s case is statute barred. It also fully denies liability and claims Mr Tobin failed to adequately care for his own safety, failed to use proper equipment and failed to follow his training.

Mr Tobin had asked the Air Corp’s defence be struck out in light of its failure to disclosure relevant documents. Alternatively, he asked the court to order the defendants to make additional and better discovery per the Supreme Court order.

Mr Justice Heslin granted the second request. He also granted Mr Tobin the costs of the application.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times