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How did today’s Supreme Court ruling over Angela Kerins’s claim for damages come about?

Angela Kerins appeared before the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee amid public controversy about the charity sector in 2014

Angela Kerins was asked to appear before the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee regarding State payments to Rehab. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

On February 17th, 2014, news outlets widely reported that Rehab Group CEO, Angela Kerins, earned a €240,000 salary, which headlines noted was €54,650 more than the taoiseach.

The private not-for-profit group, which received €82 million in annual State funding, primarily for services, released the figure amid public controversy about the charity sector and following calls from then-taoiseach Enda Kenny and various ministers.

Ms Kerins, a private sector employee who began her career as a nurse, was asked to appear before the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) regarding State payments to Rehab.

Angela Kerins’s claim for damages ‘cannot be maintained’, Supreme Court rules as it rejects appealOpens in new window ]

What occurred during the February 27th public hearing and a subsequent PAC hearing she could not attend has been the subject of a decade of litigation, with Ms Kerins enduring multiple outings in various courts in her bid for compensation for alleged damage to her health, reputation and career.

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In 2019, the Supreme Court declared that the PAC acted unlawfully by venturing significantly outside its remit.

The next leg of her claim, concerning damages, was returned to the High Court.

In what would ordinarily be a benign request for documents in support of one’s claim, Ms Kerins again encountered a barrier: Article 15.13 of the Constitution, which confers an absolute privilege on parliamentary utterances.

Not only did Mr Justice Alexander Owens feel he could not entertain her application for Dáil documents, but he believed her damages claim was “not maintainable”.

Rejecting her appeal of this ruling, the Supreme Court said it could not untangle her claim from the words uttered.

The Chief Justice noted that the Oireachtas is obliged to protect and defend the personal rights of the individual and to vindicate these if injustice is done.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

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