McGuinness says nothing unusual about Kerins meeting

Chairman says Public Accounts Committee will robustly defend action taken by ex- Rehab chief

PAC chairman John McGuinness said it was ‘not uncommon for officials and the chairman to meet with witnesses and for the chairman to explain the context and the procedures’. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

PAC chairman John McGuinness said it was ‘not uncommon for officials and the chairman to meet with witnesses and for the chairman to explain the context and the procedures’. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 10:19

The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has reiterated his view that there was nothing unusual about his meeting with former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins ahead of her appearance before the committee last February.

Responding this morning to questions and criticisms expressed by other members of the public finances watchdog about the meeting, John McGuinness said such meetings were not out of the ordinary.

“It’s not uncommon for officials and the chairman to meet with witnesses and for the chairman to explain the context and the procedures,” said Mr McGuinness.

“May I say it’s a facility available to anybody who will appear before the committee,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said the committee and the wider Oireachtas would robustly defend the High Court action being taken by Ms Kerins against the PAC.

In her affidavit she has claimed that committee members were engaged in a “witch-hunt” against her during her seven-hour appearance last February and said she lost her job and suffered illness as a result of the experience.

The PAC chairman pointed out that the High Court application yesterday was an ex parte one by Ms Kerins and that the perspective of the committee on the matter had yet to be heard.

“The PAC is there to carry out a particular function. We are carrying out within our remit. We spoke about tax payers’ money. We are dealing with governance arising out of Section 38 and Section 39 and the agreement they had with HSE and other agencies. We are perfectly entitled to examine accounts.

“I believe that members treated fairly all of the witnesses that came before us and we will [NOW]gather together a report that will go to Oireachtas.”

Section 38 and 39 refer to agencies that carry out certain paid-for services on behalf of the State.

He maintained the Committee were united and said criticisms made by Fine Gael member John Deasy last week of certain members talking “bullsh**” related to another matter.

“We are being accused of certain things based on what we have done. I would find it remarkable if members would agree if what is being said in the affidavit [of Ms Kerins],” he said.

He added that it was a very serious issue which he took very seriously with respect to the democratic institutions of the State.

Before the summer recess, the PAC had been seeking to compel Ms Kerins and her predecessor Frank Flannery to discuss their pay and pensions at a further hearing but the body which sets Dáil rules refused permission to call them against their will.

It has also emerged that Mr Flannery, for years a ranking adviser to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, is considering legal action against the committee.

Mr McGuinness, Fianna Fáil TD for Kilkenny, insisted the committee acted at all times within its legal remit. However, claims Ms Kerins made about Mr McGuinness led some committee members to say the chairman himself has questions to answer.

Ms Kerins said Mr McGuinness “advised” her about the forthcoming hearing when they met in January in the offices of Rehab’s PR company, Insight Consultants.

Mr McGuinness reassured her then that the PAC understood its limitations but warned that some members “do not like you”, she said.

She also said Michael Parker of Insight Consultants, Rehab’s former spokesman, can independently confirm the nature of the observations made by Mr McGuinness.

Ms Kerins said Mr McGuinness had previously raised with her the case of former Rehab executive Pat Fitzpatrick, now a Fianna Fáil councillor, who was losing his job as chief of a Kilkenny unit of the organisation which had been involved in the group’s unsuccessful attempt to set up a coffin-making business.

Mr McGuinness dismissed the significance of such claims, but Ms Kerins said, in an affidavit, the matter was indeed relevant as the coffins venture “unexpectedly” came up at the February hearing.

Although some committee members questioned why they were never told the PAC chairman had private talks in January with Ms Kerins, Mr McGuinness insisted there was nothing unusual in such engagements.

“I met her as I would any witness and I outlined the procedures as to what would be expected of her as a witness. The detail of all of this and the detail of her claim is something that we will deal with at another time,” he said.

“I have spoken to the legal adviser to the Oireachtas. We acted within our remit at all times. We will now take further advice when we read the [court] papers and provide a robust response.”

Echoing views expressed privately by other PAC members, Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said the committee should have been told about the chairman’s contact with Ms Kerins before the February hearing.

“We should have been informed if we weren’t. I think the chairman has some questions to answer as to his conduct in the manner of investigation pertaining to Rehab,” Mr Murphy said.

In Co Donegal yesterday, Mr Flannery said Ms Kerins’s action was “absolutely” logical.

“She and her legal team have decided to go to the High Court which is the ultimate guardian of the Constitution, guardian of the rights of citizens and have the issue out there and seek reliefs there.”

Mr Flannery said requests for him to go before the PAC from Mr Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton were “utterly and completely out of order”.