Kerins takes action over ‘unlawful’ PAC questioning

Former Rehab chief executive claims the committee showed ‘bias towards her’

Former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins has claimed she lost her job and her health has suffered as a direct consequence of her questioning by the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee in relation to State funding of the Rehab group. File Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times

Former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins has claimed she lost her job and her health has suffered as a direct consequence of her questioning by the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee in relation to State funding of the Rehab group. File Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 20:10

Former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins has claimed she lost her job and her health has suffered as a direct consequence of her questioning by the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee in relation to State funding of the Rehab group.

Her counsel John Rogers SC said Ms Kerins was questioned by members of the PAC in a manner that suggested they were “engaged in a witch hunt.”

She has launched High Court proceedings claiming the PAC conducted itself unlawfully, showed bias towards her, acted outside its remit and committed malfeasance in public office.

Permission to bring the action was granted today, on an ex-parte basis, by Mr Justice John Hedigan who said the issues raised were “grave and profound”.

He returned the matter to November 4th next.

Ms Kerins wants various orders include one restraining PAC further pursing the examination of Rehab’s accounts in so far as they relate to Ms Kerins’ employment with Rehab.

She is also claiming damages for alleged personal injuries and damage to her reputation arsing from her alleged unlawful examination before the Committee on February 27th last.

Mr Rogers said, as a direct result of the “unfair” questioning and commentary she was subjected to at the PAC hearing last February, Ms Kerins suffered “a collapse in her health” and was hospitalised for nine days.

Ms Kerins, Temple Hill, Blackrock, Co Dublin, worked for Rehab from 1992 and was its CEO from 2006.

She came before the PAC during its examination of State funding to Rehab.

Mr Rogers said the purpose of the action “was not to shut down” the PAC’s examination of funding to Rehab but to prevent the PAC continuing to pursue matters in relation to Ms Kerins’ tenure with Rehab.

His client had brought the action to vindicate her rights against an unlawful attack against her good name.

The action is against the members of PAC including the chairman, Deputy John McGuinness; the Clerks of Dail Eireann and of PAC; Ireland and the Attorney General.

She also seeks an injunction restraining PAC publishing any report, arising out of her examination, that makes findings connected with her remuneration or employment with Rehab and her appearance before the PAC that impugns her good name.

Other orders sought include ones requiring the removal of all references to Ms Kerins and her employment with Rehab from the record of the PAC and preventing PAC compelling her to attend any future hearing of the committee in respect of its examination of payments to the Rehab group.

She wants declarations PAC has no jurisdiction to examine or report on expenditure of monies by the Rehab Group, in particular expenditure concerning Ms Kerins, and a declaration her examination was tainted with bias of individual PAC members.

Mr Rogers said Ms Kerins was subjected to prejudicial, hostile and damaging commentary by members of the PAC arising out of her attendence at a PAC hearing on February 27th and her non-attendance, due to ill-health, at a PAC hearing on April 10th.

She was subjected to improper questioning by PAC members including Deputies Kieran O’Donnell, Mary Lou McDonald, Robert Dowds, Shane Ross and John Deasy at the first hearing, counsel said.

The questions related to issues about her car, salary, bonus payments, family memebrs and people close to her having commercial relationships with rehab, decision to write to an Irish American website about an article it published about her.

She was also subjected to improper commentary following her non-attendance.

Deputy Ross had contributed columns in the Sunday Independent, which attacked Ms Kerins reputation in a manner disclosing “a clear personal animus”, Mr Rogers said.

In court documents, it is claimed, prior to the hearings, Ms Kerins had a meeting with PAC chairman John McGuinness who, it is alleged, had said some of the PAC members did not like her.

Deputy McGuinness had previously contacted Ms Kerins in relation to Pat Fitzpatrick who was in the process of losing his employment with Rehab enterprises Kilkenny, which was involved in the assembly and sale of coffins, it is alleged.

Mr Rogers said Ms Kerins had informed Deputy McGuinness she was unable to assist in the matter. Her involvement in the same coffin business became the subject of hostile examination during the first hearing.

Counsel said Deputy McGuinness never disclosed in public his previous interest or repeated contact about the business with Ms Kerins.

Mr Rogers submitted PAC lacks jurisdiction to examine Rehab’s expenditure as Rehab is a private body that has never been audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

PAC is only entitled to examine expenditure of companies which the Comptroller has either audited or issued reports on to the Dail, he said.

Counsel said Rehab is paid for providing services to state agencies such as the HSE, SOLAS, and the Dept of Justice, does not receive grants and its expenditure is outside the remit of the PAC.