PAC knew manner of inquiry into Rehab was ‘off limits’, court told

Angela Kerins alleges Dáil committee had an agenda to ‘go after’ her and impose accountability

Former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins pictured arriving at the Four Courts on Tuesday for the continuation of her High Court action against the Public Accounts Committee. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins pictured arriving at the Four Courts on Tuesday for the continuation of her High Court action against the Public Accounts Committee. Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) knew, before former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins appeared before it in February 2014, that the manner in which it proposed to inquire into the affairs of Rehab was “off limits”, the High Court has been told.

Members of PAC knew or should have known of the standing orders governing its hearings, John Rogers SC said. Ms Kerins’s side believed the committee also received legal advice in January 2014 that it had no jurisdiction to question the Rehab chief as it proposed, Mr Rogers said.

His case was that the PAC had an agenda to “go after”, and impose accountability on, Ms Kerins and that had occurred in two public hearings of PAC on February 27th and April 10th 2014.

Without any notice to Ms Kerins, accusations were publicly made against her by PAC members as if they were proven, including of destroying the Rehab group, “moral turpitude”, lack of probity, engaging former Rehab chief executive Frank Flannery in consultancy work against the rules of the Rehab group and involvement with a coffins company, he said.

Mr Rogers, with Siobhán Phelan SC, for Ms Kerins, was continuing his opening of a hearing to decide PAC’s jurisdiction to conduct the hearings.

That issue, with implications for future PAC inquiries, is central to Ms Kerins’s action against PAC and the State seeking damages for alleged personal injuries and reputational damage. This is based on claims that PAC conducted itself unlawfully, showed bias towards her and was guilty of misfeasance in public office.

The hearing is before a three judge High Court comprising court president, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, Mr Justice Séamus Noonan and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy.

PAC denies it acted outside jurisdiction and that pleads Ms Kerins voluntarily agreed to attend before it on February 27th. Due to ill-health, she was not part of a Rehab delegation that attended the April 10th meeting.

Shane Ross

On Tuesday, Mr Rogers said Independent TD and PAC member Shane Ross was “part of the instigation” of the PAC examination of Ms Kerins. Prior to that, the TD wrote articles saying Rehab was mainly linked to Fine Gael and alleging “top guns” in Fine Gael had moved in to win a delay in Rehab appearing before PAC.

While the TD could be part of the “commentariat” speaking generally about the process, his interest in the subject matter went beyond the process, counsel said. Deputy Ross had Ms Kerins “in his sights” and wanted her before PAC answering questions about her salary, he said.

Mr Rogers also said that during the February 27th hearing Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald had said Ms Kerins had referred to lower paid Rehab staff having to accept pay cuts in 2010 in line with those imposed on public sector employees while Ms Kerins had said she was privately employed and in a different position.

Deputy McDonald had said it “jars with me” that “some in Rehab are more equal than others”. Such comments were indicative of how PAC had “slurred” the good name and reputation of Ms Kerins, counsel said.

No ‘mystery’ about salary

There was no “mystery” about Ms Kerins €234,000 salary which she publicly disclosed prior to February 27th, he said.

The Dáil Committee on Procedures and Privilege (CPP), whose role includes supervising the business of Dáil committees, received complaints from Ms Kerins’s solicitors alleging manifest bias on the part of PAC towards her and that PAC had acted outside its remit and breached her rights, he said.

After the April 10th meeting, the CPP informed PAC it had no power to compel either Ms Kerins or Mr Flannery to appear before it, he said. A July 2014 Irish Times report stated PAC had been warned by a parliamentary legal adviser it was in danger of straying outside its remit, some members had privately expressed concerns about that and that Fine Gael TD John Deasy had said some PAC members were akin to “ambulance chasers”.

If PAC had jurisdiction to inquire into the charity sector and payments, that would have to be under a special instrument, counsel said. Such jurisdiction would be lost on grounds including if there was no advance notice to witnesses of the terms of the inquiry or if it was conducted in a biased manner and in breach of rights.

The case continues.