Kerins intent on holding PAC responsible in most public way
Counsel for Kerins says former Rehab chief had been ‘overwhelmed’ by Dáil spending watchdog and had to be hospitalised
Angela Kerins (right), former Rehab Group chief: The PAC, her counsel said, had “acted beyond its remit”. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Three large cardboard boxes filled with ring-binders were wheeled into court number nine of the High Court at 2pm yesterday. Through the handle of the boxes packed full of legal documents, transcripts and media comments could be spotted the name “Angela Kerins”, the former chief executive of the Rehab Group.
John Rogers, the former attorney general and senior counsel for Kerins, was handed files from the top box as he began a scathing review of the treatment of his client by the Public Accounts Committee, the Dáil’s spending watchdog.
The PAC, he said, had “acted beyond its remit” by not confining its questioning of Kerins to an “examination” of State funding of the Rehab Group, but instead had descended into a “witch-hunt” which “defamed” her reputation and, ultimately cost her, her job.
The experience, he said, had “overwhelmed” Kerins and led her to being hospitalised for nine nights after what he termed a seven-hour “interrogation”. Rogers told the court he planned to “dip” into various statements made by members of the PAC which his client felt had damaged her.
He began with Mary Lou McDonald. The Sinn Féin TD stated he said: “Does she [Kerins] have any concept of her accountability and responsibility in her public position? It is a public position she occupies.”
Rogers said this was an unfair statement as Kerins “was not and never has been” a civil servant but was “the privately employed chief executive of the Rehab Group”.
McDonald, he complained, had cut Kerins off without allowing her answer key questions.
McDonald had criticised the amount of Kerins salary, but Rogers said this was unfair as it was only the “private opinion” of the Sinn Féin TD.
Rogers went on and on, as he dealt with member after member of the PAC.
Model of carHe highlighted how Kieran O’Donnell had quizzed Kerins about the model of car she drove. “The court might ask how on earth the age of a chief executive’s car would have anything to do with what was going on,” he mused.
He also criticised how he said members of the committee had inferred that Kerins had acted wrongly by implying that Rehab had “skeletons” in its cupboard.
Rogers said: “Almost every deputy seems to raise the spectre of some wrongdoing . . .” without, he said, providing actual proof.
He said Shane Ross had lashed Rehab for what the TD called the “opaqueness” of its accounts. Rogers said this was only a “judgment” but had been allowed go on the record.
Rogers said there had been “extraordinary damage” done to Kerins during her time in front of the PAC.
He said comments by the PAC about Kerins at a later meeting she was unable to attend because of illness, had made things worse, as she could not defend herself.
It was highlighted how Ross had said at this later meeting: “The organisation has come to a pretty pass under her leadership. It is a funny definition of success.”
McGuinness later added: “To a large degree, the dominant figure, the CEO, was allowed to conduct affairs without question.”
Things were aggravated further, he said, by the comments of committee members to the media, or in Ross’s case a column in the Sunday Independent.
Mr Justice John Hedigan described the issues raised as “grave and profound”. He said Rogers had easily reached the “bar” required to take an action.
Afterwards Aidan Eames of Eames Solicitors issued a brief statement outside the High Court on behalf of his client.
“I have attempted through my legal advisers to avoid the legal impasse that has occurred and the unfair treatment that I suffered at the Public Accounts Committee. Regretfully the PAC continues to conduct an unfair, unlawful and prejudicial investigation against me,” her statement read.
‘No alternative’Kerins said she felt she had “no alternative” but to take court action. “This case raises important legal issues of the rights of every individual in this state, the conduct of committees of the Parliament and of constitutional law,” her statement added.
Kerins is believed to be considering further action in relation to comments made by members of the PAC outside the Dáil. She seems determined to hold the PAC accountable in a most public way, in the courts. Bankers, awaiting to appear in front of the bank inquiry, take note.