Angela Kerins’s claim for damages ‘cannot be maintained’, Supreme Court rules as it rejects appeal

No possible change to former Rehab chief executive’s case could alter the fact that it seeks to impose civil liability on Dáil, judge said

The Supreme Court has dismissed Angela Kerins's appeal seeking Dáil documents to aid her in her quest for damages. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

A claim for damages “cannot be maintained” in proceedings brought by former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins over her treatment at a 2014 Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Supreme Court has ruled.

The court’s seven judges on Tuesday dismissed her appeal seeking Dáil documents to aid her in her damages case.

Ruling for the court, the Chief Justice said her damages claim, as formulated in this case, is precluded by the provisions of article 15 of the Constitution, which confers a privilege on parliamentary utterances.

In a lead judgment supported by his six colleagues, Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell said the “gravamen” of her claim is that she suffered damage to her reputation and health by reason of what was “said” when she appeared before the PAC in February 2014 amid controversy over her €240,000 salary.


It was not permissible for her to simply recharacterise the constitutionally protected words and utterances of the elected members of the committee as the PAC’s conduct and actions for which the Dáil could be sued for damages, he said.

To do so would be inconsistent with the logic and reasoning of an earlier Supreme Court decision in this case and would “effectively remove the privilege” of the speech of Oireachtas members, he said.

These findings do not mean she did not have any constitutional rights in her dealings with the PAC, he added.

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The Chief Justice said the Oireachtas is obliged to fulfil a constitutional duty to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the individual in the case of injustice done.

He noted a 2019 apology to Ms Kerins from Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, which referred to the committee having trampled on the rights of a citizen, was made in a personal capacity and that it was reported he did not have authority to make such a statement on behalf of the Dáil.

In her long-running court case, Ms Kerins claimed that over seven hours the committee subjected her to a “witch hunt” style of questioning and that she was so overwhelmed by what happened that she later attempted to take her life and could not attend a follow-up hearing that April. She resigned from her private sector role that month.

Her claims about the PAC were denied, and the committee has argued it was entitled to ask questions concerning State funding to Rehab.

In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled on the first module of her action and found the committee acted unlawfully as a whole by straying significantly outside its remit. Any question related to potential damages arising out of alleged misfeasance in public office was to be dealt with first by the High Court.

Ruling on her pre-trial request for discovery of Dáil documents in July 2022, Mr Justice Alexander Owens, of the High Court, said article 15.13 of the Constitution precluded him from entertaining her application as her claim called for “judgment on speech and debate by members of Dáil Éireann”.

He concluded her action for damages was “not maintainable” due to the constitutional protection placed on utterances in the Dáil.

In her appeal to the Supreme Court, Ms Kerins’s lawyers argued she “never sought to litigate the utterances” of the committee members but sought damages over the PAC’s “actions”.

Her appeal was contested by Dáil Éireann, represented by Brian Kennedy SC and Catherine Donnelly SC; and Ireland and the Attorney General, represented by Conor Power SC.

Mr Justice Brian Murray and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan delivered separate judgments that concurred with that of the Chief Justice.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times