By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — As the bill for Irish soldiers’ deafness claims is set to top £1 billion, the army bands may have to be disbanded because the soldier-musicians are claiming their instruments are making them deaf, according to the chairman of a Dáil watchdog committee.
The public accounts committee has also warned that the Irish government could face a new wave of claims from soldiers claiming they have suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
An avalanche of deafness compensation claims — which at one stage were being submitted at the rate of over 600 a month — has led to payouts averaging £22,000 plus costs.
The soldiers say the government was negligent because it failed to provide them with adequate ear protection on shooting and artillery ranges down the years.
So far, almost 14,000 shooting range claims have been submitted and there have also been more than 100 claims by bandsmen who say that poor acoustics in venues where they played led to hearing damage because the music was amplified by up to three times in the halls.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
The committee was warned by the secretary general of the department of defense that new compensation battles may be looming.
Mitchell said the prospect of a huge number of stress claims was "ringing alarm bells in our ears."
Compensation awards for bandsmen by the courts have ranged up to £45,000.
TD Jim Mitchell, chairman of the public accounts committee, said getting rid of the bands may have to be considered.
He said service in the armed forces obviously had occupational hazards, but he claimed court awards were being made "where there was no damage."
"To my personal layman’s view it is inexplicable," Mitchell said.
One of the army’s four bands may be sounding the last post as a result of reorganization in the defense forces but PDFORRA, the soldier’s representative body, has warned against using the bands as "scapegoats".
They claimed the threat to ax bands was an attempt to intimidate soldiers with legitimate claims.