Analysis: Angela Kerins’ departure does not herald the end of the affair

Rehab seems reluctant to acknowledge a transparency deficit

Angela Kerins: has resigned, citing toll of recent controversies on her family and on Rehab itself. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Angela Kerins: has resigned, citing toll of recent controversies on her family and on Rehab itself. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 01:00

The seeds of Angela Kerins’s exit from Rehab were sown 87 days ago when she went on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland radio programme from Riyadh to discuss a contract the disabilities group had just signed in Saudi Arabia.

It was about 8.30am on Monday, January 6th, the first day of the first full working week of the year and memories were still fresh of the pay top-up controversy at the Central Remedial Clinic, which had prompted the resignation of its board before Christmas.

On the air that morning, Kerins was asked more than once to disclose her pay, but she would not. In the unforgiving atmosphere of the times, it was enough to set in train events which would draw an onslaught on Rehab from both the Government and the Public Accounts Committee.

It might have blown over if Rehab, which has charitable status, promptly gave comprehensive replies to the questions posed. But many of its eventual answers were partial, further clouding the picture.

The sense remains that Rehab, which receives annual State funding of some €82 million, is reluctant to acknowledge or confront a transparency deficit at the apex of the organisation.

Serious issues
This raises serious issues now for the Rehab board and its chairman, Brian Kerr, who remained in the background in the last four months as pressure intensified on Kerins and finally overwhelmed her.

After all, there can hardly have been any doubt that the CRC debacle would trigger questions of Rehab. Yet, instead of immediately clarifying Kerins’s pay in January, the board waited almost a month before convening a special meeting to make the disclosure. While a great deal of importance was given to Kerins’s right to pay confidentiality at that time, the more fundamental question of Rehab’s public standing was obscured.

This has continued ever since, in spite of the numerous questions that still surround Rehab’s affairs. For all of Kerins’s insistent defensiveness, the seepage of credibility went on and on. She was the public face of Rehab. If anyone on the board was unhappy with the message, there was no public sign of it.

The first overt casualty in all of this was Frank Flannery, Kerins’s predecessor in the chief executive’s chair and a Rehab board member until he resigned his directorship three weeks ago. He also left a top-ranked, but unpaid, position in Fine Gael.

Now Kerins herself has gone, citing the toll of recent controversies on her family and on Rehab itself.

This is a point worth noting, for the ultimate casualty in all of this is an organisation with operations in Ireland, Britain, Poland, the Netherlands and Saudi which provides valuable employment to 3,800 people.

“I met a Rehab staff member during the week, who told me she is embarrassed and ashamed to be working for the organisation, due to the series of revelations surrounding the salaries of senior executives,” said a statement yesterday from Fine Gael TD Simon Harris, a member of the PAC.

“It’s very upsetting to see hard-working Rehab employees feeling so compromised by the actions and inactions of senior executives.”

Harris and other PAC members made it clear that Kerins’ departure does not herald the end of the affair. Far from it.

“Resignation or not Angela Kerins must still answer questions around Rehab and cooperate with the PAC,” read a characteristically blunt tweet from Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

If biting exchanges between Kerins and McDonald provided more than a touch of drama when the Rehab chief went before the PAC for seven hours in February, many of the issues raised at that time are still outstanding.

Questions remain over the tiny profit margins in some of its charity lottery products. These yielded little enough for charity even though the products themselves enabled the group to draw tens of millions of euro from the State under a support scheme which is now being unwound.

There is also the matter of Flannery’s professional lobbying of the Government on Rehab’s behalf as it sought to save the State scheme. Thanks to his Fine Gael post, Flannery’s access to the ministerial corridor in Leinster House may have been central to this effort.

We still don’t know why he would not attend the PAC with Kerins. He was seen around Leinster House that very day.

Bonus payments
Further uncertainty surrounds past bonus payments made to Kerins, who told the PAC she could not remember what bonus she received in 2009 before she voluntarily waived her performance-related pay. The more general question of its management pay policy is also in the frame .

Also outstanding are questions linked to Complete Eco Solutions, a company owned by Flannery and Kerins’s husband and brother, which entered an agreement in 2010 to import coffins from China for Rehab.

Official records
Kerins told the PAC that her husband, Seán Kerins, stood down as a director of Complete Eco Solutions “once the activity began”. But we know now that the deal was done in January 2010, and official records show he did not resign until August 31st that year. Neither did Kerins disclose her husband’s ownership of one-third of the company’s shares at the PAC.

The committee has also referred allegations made by property developer John Kelly against senior people involved with Rehab to the Garda.

Kerins, Flannery and other ranking figures at Rehab are still expected before a further hearing of the PAC next Thursday.

Another bracing interrogation is in prospect.

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