Bookie shouts the odds in Ireland's Army scandal

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The Independent Online
A Dublin bookmaker has responded to general disgust at the numbers of Irish Army personnel claiming compensation for hearing loss during artillery training by offering 10-1 odds on soldiers suing for impaired vision due to glare from over-shiny boots.

Paddy Power bookmakers insisted its new odds were genuine, and offered in response to public anger at the scale of deafness claims. The scandal has been growing since last April when the Dail was told 350 cases had been settled, and pounds 350m would be needed to resolve all claims. Estimates of the eventual bill plus costs have since grown to over pounds 2bn.

Other bets offered include 20-1 on claims for sore throats due to singing marching songs; 5-1 on soldiers suing for travel sickness during journeys to the Lebanon; 25-1 on compensation for money lost at an Army day out at the races; and 500-1 on the Army winning a collective Oscar for acting.

More than 10,500 past and present Irish soldiers (including a retired brigadier general) have so far brought deafness claims. To national disbelief, another five cases are being brought by soldiers claiming the Army was negligent in not supplying them with sun cream while serving with Unifil peace-keeping force in the Lebanon.

It also emerged an officer awarded pounds 25,000 last year in a "deafness" claim is in line to lead an infantry battalion, even though his medical assessment recommends he should not go within 300 yards of heavy weapons.

In addition 15 soldiers are suing the state claiming they suffered food- poisoning at an off-duty barbecue in the Lebanon.

John Lucey, general secretary of Irish soldiers' association said the claims were serious and criticised "trivialisation" of the issue. Food poisoning cases were so serious several were airlifted out for treatment. The kitchen involved was dismantled UN inspectors' instructions, he said.

The nightmare for taxpayers is that much of the hard-earned fruits of Ireland's boom will not now go to raising standards in cash-strapped schools, hospitals and railways but into paying Army "compo", as compensation is known here.

The country is split by the issue. One side believes soldiers are guilty of outrageous neck. The other feels top brass deserve the brick-bats given their stupidity in failing to supply hearing protection during training, and then blocking soldiers using their own, because they were not official issue.

The Irish defence minister, Michael Smith, warned this week the volume of Army damages cases could have enormous implications for Ireland's "compo culture".

He claimed people who had suffered genuinely were being used "to open up a vista for litigation in this country that has no horizon. My department could end up taking finance from education, health and social welfare to pay inflated costs and claims. Financing the Army itself is under threat", he said.

If allowed, ambulance-chasing solicitors would also wreak havoc across Irish industry, and employers could be sued for hosting social events for staff, or being blamed for the weather in which work was carried out.