PAC engaged in ‘frolic of its own’ in dealings with Angela Kerins
Committee made statements and comments derogatory of ex-Rehab boss, counsel says
Angela Kerins is seen arriving at the High Court on Wednesday for the continuation of her action. Photograph: Collins
The Dáil Public Accounts Committee’s questioning of former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins about payments of public monies to the organisation seemed to be based on “some concept of accountability”, the High Court has been told.
The committee engaged in “a frolic of its own” for which it had no mandate and no basis in law, John Rogers SC, for Ms Kerins, said.
It appeared to think its hearings were necessary as part of an inquiry into the affairs of the charity sector and the justification seemed based on a concept of accountability with Ms Kerins and others from Rehab treated as persons “accounting” to it, he said.
This “invasion” of the private affairs of Ms Kerins had “no legal basis”, Mr Rogers added.
Some committee members made comments and statements demonstrating bias, including subjective bias, towards Ms Kerins, he argued. Bias was evident at a public hearing on February 27th, 2014 and “absolutely apparent” at a second hearing on April 10th, 2014.
The most significant occasions of that came from questions from Independent TD Shane Ross and Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald in which they “specifically target” Ms Kerins, he said.
Ms McDonald pursued questions “loaded with suggestions” Ms Kerins had damaged Rehab and used words expressing “disdain” for Ms Kerins, the court heard.
The TD also inferred some impropriety by Ms Kerins in relation to a company, Complete Eco Solutions Ltd [a company co-owned by Ms Kerins’ husband from which a Rehab company had in 2010 bought coffins imported from China], counsel said.
Mr Ross had pursued a Rehab board member at the April 10th hearing over whether a complaint had been made against Ms Kerins and “outed” that there was such a complaint which was a matter “entirely private” to Rehab.
Committee chairman John McGuinness also made comments showing a willingness to condemn Ms Kerins, including describing her conduct as “deplorable”, counsel said.
A recorded extract from the April 10th hearing was played to the three judge court on Wednesday. Ms Kerins was not part of the Rehab delegation which attended that hearing.
In proceedings against the members of the committee and the State, Ms Kerins claims she became so overwhelmed as a result of her treatment on February 27th, 2014, that she tried to take her life on March 14th and was unfit to attend the second hearing.
The conduct of both hearings caused her to suffer personal injury, loss of reputation and loss of career, she alleges.
The committee denies her claims and that it conducted itself unlawfully, showed bias towards her or was guilty of misfeasance in public office. It also denies it is a fact-finding committee and pleads its hearings were in the public interest.
The hearing before High Court President Mr Justice Peter Kelly, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy is aimed at establishing the extent of the committee’s jurisdiction to conduct the two hearings before other issues, including any liability to damages, are addressed.
Mr Rogers argued there can be an examination of the remuneration of officers of charities but that the committee cannot examine the pay of individuals without legislation.
He relied on various court decisions, particularly in the “Abbeylara” case, to argue the hearings concerning Ms Kerins had no legal basis.
Those decisions addressed the powers of Oireachtas Committees and effectively shut down an Oireachtas sub-committee investigation into the shooting dead by armed gardaí of John Carthy during a siege at Abbeylara in 2000. The sub-committee, the courts held, had no power to make adverse findings that could impugn the good name of a person not a member of the Oireachtas.
While the committee argued it was not a fact-finding body, its members made statements and comments derogatory of Ms Kerins and directed to the character of Ms Kerins and her reputation, Mr Rogers said. They were made without any warrant, order of reference or resolution.
Paul Gallagher SC, for the committee, will begin his response to Mr Rogers’ opening comments on Thursday.