PAC plans ‘robust’ response to Kerins legal action

Kerins claims committee members engaged in a ‘witch-hunt’

File photograph of former Rehab chief Angela Kerins who has filed a High Court action for compensation arising from a PAC investigation. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

File photograph of former Rehab chief Angela Kerins who has filed a High Court action for compensation arising from a PAC investigation. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 07:58

The Public Accounts Committee plans a “robust” response to former Rehab chief Angela Kerins after she filed a High Court action for compensation arising from its investigation into the disability group.

Ms Kerins has claimed PAC members engaged in a “witch-hunt” when she appeared before the committee for seven hours last February and claimed she lost her job and suffered illness as a result.

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.

Mr Flannery, for years a ranking adviser to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, said he too is considering legal action against the committee.

PAC chairman John 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 that 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 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.

 

Acted within remit

“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”.