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Glimmer of Hope For Former Tipperary Miners

Speaking in the Dáil last Wednesday night, North Tipperary Deputy Noel Coonan helped push a step further, the National Coalminers Group’s plight for redress.  Many former miners suffer from various health problems acquired during coal-mining activity and the Fine Gael TD stated that the Minister for Social Protection has provided a “glimmer of hope” at last to those affected.

During the debate, Deputy Coonan strongly urged the Minister for Social Protection to outline his Department’s response to the National Coalminers Group’s ongoing campaign.

Deputy Coonan stated he was pleased with the outcome, saying Minister Eamon O’Cuiv will undertake an investigation in his department to see that many of the miners’ health problems such as tinnitus and asthma and other respiratory ailments will be addressed under the Occupational Injuries Benefit Scheme (OIBS).

Minister O’Cúiv said he will work with the miners to reduce the hardship they are suffering. Currently the OIBS is too restrictive a scheme for the miners;  it does not address their needs because the list of prescribed illnesses is too tight. For example, pneumoconiosis is acceptable but COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – tinnitus and asthma are not.
Deputy Coonan pointed out that these are the main conditions suffered by the miners and the scheme needs to change. “The Minister seemed to accept that that scheme wasn’t sufficient to meet needs of miners and their health problems acquired from working in the mines. This is more than any of the Ministers’ predecessors has done to date. I hope this isn’t just an initial reaction that fades away, as has been the case in the past. The Minister has indicated that he will discuss the issue in-depth with his officials in the Department of Social Protection. I am cautiously optimistic that the miners may at last get some compensation,” concluded Deputy Coonan.

Deputy Coonan stated:

“During a presentation made by the National Coalminers Group at a recent meeting of a joint committee, another serious issue emerged and that is the high variance of diagnosis between the experts.  A case study undertaken under Professor Fitzgerald at St. Vincent’s Hospital diagnosed a person with disabilities of 80% whereas the Department of Social Protection’s doctors or experts decided it was only 20%.  In today’s money, that means a €750 per month loss to the miners. Under the Mines and Quarries Act 1965, the Minister had a duty of care to the people who work in quarries and mines to provide adequate ventilation and to protect them from overexposure to dust. That duty of care was not exercised.  In fact, ‘cowboys’ were allowed to operate the mines without due respect to the health and safety or general well-being of the miners.  The consequences have been dire.  The mortality rate of miners is much higher than that of the ordinary individual; they are dying at an alarming rate, with 50 deaths in the past two years.”

Deputy Coonan concluded by saying that a most reasonable solution would be a lump sum award to miners and widows of former miners. This would be an acknowledgement of an expression of regret which is owed to these people.

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