Bell sues for deafness he blames on FCA service

 

The Labour TD, Mr Michael Bell, has said he is seeking compensation from the Department of Defence for deafness allegedly caused by inadequate ear protection during his time in the FCA. He said he had initiated proceedings in the last fortnight.

Mr Bell, who is Labour's defence spokesman, said he joined the FCA in 1954 and served for 29 years until 1983. He had served full-time on the Border as a quartermaster in 1969-70 and had overseen the care of 1,100 Northern refugees at Gormanston camp in Co Meath.

"I felt sore at the adverse publicity given to members of the Defence Forces taking claims when I knew those claims were justified," he said. "People who have never been near a firing range were casting aspersions on them and talking about them `ripping off' the State when in fact they gave loyal service to the State.

"The State was negligent in that it didn't apply Defence Force regulations by not providing proper ear protection on firing ranges. If that negligence is proved in court, the State will have to pay. Members of the Defence Forces are no different from any other worker."

The Louth TD said he had warned about the dangers of not applying the proper regulations for years. "Yet five years after the first claim, those regulations on ear protection were still not being applied."

He recalled that during a shooting competition at the Curragh he had been ordered by a senior officer to remove his and his unit's earmuffs because he said they gave the unit an unfair advantage. Mr Bell said it was only now that earmuffs were being used properly in the Defence Forces. He said he had already spent more than £2,500 on medical fees. He had not realised how much his hearing had been affected until he had taken a full test two years ago. His hearing was satisfactory in one-to-one situations, but in crowded places like pubs, where there was considerable background noise, he had difficulties.

Mr Bell, who is 61, denied that his hearing loss could be put down to increasing age. "As assessed by experts, it is due to my FCA service," he said.

Maol Muire Tynan, Political Reporter, writes: A Labour Party spokesman declined to comment on Mr Bell's decision to pursue a claim but, according to a Fianna Fail TD, Mr G.V. Wright, the Louth TD should step down from the Committee of Public Accounts.

"At the least - no matter what the outcome of his civil action - Deputy Bell must have a conflict of interest as he is also a member of the all-party Committee of Public Accounts, which is investigating Defence Forces claims." Mr Bell should at least explain his actions to the Dail when it resumes today "as the current rage of compo claims are damaging morale and the good name of the Defence Forces".