The ESB now has serious questions to answer regarding its apparent blatant disregard for both the environment and the health and safety of its employee, and its internal culture regarding the treatment of whistle-blowers.

Social Democrats Co-Leader Catherine Murphy has described as “horrifying” the revelations in tonight’s RTÉ Investigates documentary regarding aspects of health and safety within the ESB and the environmental damage, caused by underground leaks, which has been largely ignored by the ESB over a number of years.

She said there is also significant cause for concern regarding the ESB’s use of Sulpher Hexaflouride also known as SF6 – a gas with a global warming potential 23,000 times greater than CO2.

Ms Murphy said the courage of the main whistle-blower, Mr Séamus O’Loughlin, was outstanding but pointed out that by Mr O’Loughlin’s own testimony; the process of lifting the lid on the dangers to employees and the hazards to the wider environment has been anything but easy and it was Mr O’Loughlin’s opinion that his professional life had been “blown to bits”. She said this is yet another high-profile example of a toxic culture in Irish public and business life where whistle-blowing is actively discouraged.

Catherine Murphy TD said:

“The RTÉ investigates documentary on Wednesday evening, based on the courageous actions of Mr Séamus O’Loughlin, the Whistle-blower, has blown the lid off a major environmental issue that appears to have been handled less than adequately by the ESB, a Semi-State company. That the issue was not immediately and comprehensively addressed when the first issue was raised as far back as 2015 raises serious questions regarding the ESB’s laissez-faire attitude to the safety of their employees.

“Equally appalling is the ESB’s use and handling of the extremely hazardous SF6 gas despite major international coverage of the dangers it poses to the environment. For all the talk of CO2 emissions and a climate crisis, here we have a Semi-State company wantonly using and improperly storing this hugely detrimental gas over a significant time period. This in addition to the revelations that significant amounts of oil are still being leaked from ESB pipe-lines into the Dublin waterways and have been for at least two decades, shows at best a flippant regard for environmental concerns by the ESB and at worst a complete disregard for the environment.”

“Yet again it is worth noting that paying lip-service by way of Dáil motions and climate emergency declarations is one thing but actively and aggressively tackling and addressing the causes is another thing entirely. In addition it must be noted how the whistle-blower in this case has been treated and this should once again highlight the need for organisations to actively review their culture when it comes to encouraging bravery by employees who are willing to step-forward and highlight problems if and when they arise. The ESB now has serious questions to answer regarding its apparent blatant disregard for both the environment and the health and safety of its employee, and its internal culture regarding the treatment of whistle-blowers.”

5th June 2019

Anne Marie McNally