The government faces a compensation bill from soldiers with hearing impairment making personal injury claims.

Since 1994, the Defence Forces have taken delivery of 18,000 sets of protective ear muffs and all soldiers on firing ranges must wear them.

Soldiers who now experience the sound of gunfire have modern state of the art ear muffs to protect their hearing.

Most of the claims over loss of hearing relate to the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, the only hearing protection the soldiers had was ear plugs. Back in the 1950s, there was nothing but cotton wool.

Figures provided by Minister for Defence Seán Barrett over £7 million has already been paid out by way of compensation and legal costs. The minister also said that there are still over 5,000 cases outstanding. Awards to soldiers average between thirty and forty thousand pounds. The state could face a further bill of up to £200 million. It may not end there. Michael Bell of Labour says that the enormity of the situation has not yet been fully realised. He is predicting that the final payout could be as high as £1 billion. The Department of Defence says that this would be a worse case scenario. The claims are still coming in.

New claims are arriving at up to a hundred a week.

Twelve civil servants and twenty five military personnel are working full-time assessing and administering the claims which are being vigorously contested in the courts. John Lucey of PDFORRA, the association representing soldiers, says that some form of tribunal is needed to deal with the claims.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 3 March 1997. The reporter is Tom McCaughren.