There was an interesting conversation on last Saturday’s Marian Finucane Show. Comdt. Colum Doyle, a former Director of Public Relations with the Defence Forces was reminiscing on how he and his staff handled the army deafness controversy.
Marian began by asking why no one in authority was held responsible for the damage done to the hearing of thousands of servicemen, despite the problem being known about for decades.
Comdt. Doyle blamed solicitors, judges, civil servants and of course the servicemen who made the claims for the debacle. He proudly boasted of his successful PR strategy in countering what he described as the snide remarks made by civilians. He candidly admitted that he was, in effect, a spin doctor.
Here are some of my memories of the controversy. In the 70s, there was no hearing protection provided for servicemen during range practice. It was decidedly un-macho to use ear protection at this time. The few personnel who tried to protect their hearing by using cotton wool were usually ridiculed. I remember on one occasion an officer ordering a man to remove cotton wool so that orders could be properly heard.
During the 80s, when the problem was beginning to get noticed we were issued with ear plugs. These were cheap pieces of foam that had to be firmly pressed into the ear to be effective and probably caused more damage than protection.
Sometime in the mid 80s new headsets were purchased. These were modern, safe and effective but unfortunately the military authorities were very reluctant to hand them out. The word was that they were considered too expensive to be actually used. The following story will illustrate the official attitude.
While in stores one day to collect some kit I noticed the new headsets and asked for an issue as I was due for range practice that week. I was told that only those with an officially certified hearing problem would qualify for the new hearing protection.
The final compensation bill for the taxpayer was €321 million. I wonder how much those headsets cost.