Shane Ross wrote of ‘sheer neck’ of Angela Kerins, court told

TD’s article appeared after ex-Rehab chief and other officials of charity appeared at PAC

John Rogers SC, for Angela  Kerins, said Shane Ross TD was in 2014 a member of the Public Accounts Committee,  and the tone of a March 2014 article in the Sunday Independent “plainly indicates” a state of mind adverse to Ms Kerins, Rehab and other persons mentioned in the article. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

John Rogers SC, for Angela Kerins, said Shane Ross TD was in 2014 a member of the Public Accounts Committee, and the tone of a March 2014 article in the Sunday Independent “plainly indicates” a state of mind adverse to Ms Kerins, Rehab and other persons mentioned in the article. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Independent TD Shane Ross wrote a newspaper article asserting “for sheer neck, no one has come within a whisper of Angela Kerins and her charity gang”, the High Court has heard.

The article by the now Minister for Transport was written in 2014 after the former Rehab chief executive and other Rehab officials appeared before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, the court heard.

John Rogers SC, for Ms Kerins, said Mr Ross was in 2014 a member of the PAC and the tone of a March 2014 article in the Sunday Independent “plainly indicates” a state of mind adverse to Ms Kerins, Rehab and other persons mentioned in it, including another former Rehab chief executive, Frank Flannery.

He was making final arguments at the conclusion of a hearing before a three-judge High Court concerning whether the PAC had jurisdiction to conduct two hearings on February 27th and April 10th, 2014, concerning public payments to Rehab, as it had.

‘Great deal to consider’

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, with Mr Justice Seamus Noonan and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said they had “a great deal to consider” and would give judgment at a later date.

Ms Kerins claims the two PAC hearings amounted to an unlawful “witchhunt” against her, outside the PAC’s jurisdiction, and she wants damages on grounds including alleged personal injury, loss of reputation and loss of career.

She claims she was so overwhelmed by what happened at the February 27th hearing that she later attempted to take her life and could not attend the April 10th hearing.

The PAC argues it had jurisdiction to conduct the hearings as it did and is entitled to scrutinise how public funds are spent in a context including some €80 million of public monies being paid annually to Rehab companies.

On Friday, Mr Rogers said the March 2014 article by Mr Ross referred to the Rehab witnesses appearing before the PAC on February 27th and alleged the committee was given the “two-finger treatment” with “key questions” left unanswered, including concerning Ms Kerins’s “astronomical” €240,000 salary and “chunky bonuses” in the past.

Newspaper column

This was a member of the PAC discussing its business in public through his newspaper column, counsel said.

Mr Justice Kelly remarked it was “hardly a discussion”, and Mr Ross was “expressing trenchant views”.

Mr Rogers said PAC was by this stage “wholly out of control”, and its business was being discussed by one of its members in public when there was no recourse.

When Mr Justice Kelly remarked there was the option of a defamation action, Mr Rogers argued there was no recourse in the context of the process of the committee.

Counsel also said the PAC chairman, Independent TD John McGuinness, had written an article in the Irish Sun dealing with what Mr McGuinness regarded as Ms Kerins’s “refusal” to appear again before the PAC.

He further argued Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was permitted by the chairman to “forcefully” pursue Rehab witnesses at the April 10th hearing to get them to “condemn” Ms Kerins in her absence.

When the two hearings were examined, it was difficult to see any process involving any restraint, there was a “free for all” and a “wholesale failure” to comply with constitutional justice, he said.

‘Animus’ towards Kerins

At the heart of this case was Ms Kerins’s good name, but nothing was done to protect her and it seemed there was an “animus” towards her, counsel said.

Ms Kerins had “done some good”, steered Rehab through the financial crisis between 2008 and 2014, and brought it to a point where it was providing high quality services and creating jobs.

The Rehab witnesses had described her as successful but that “counted for nought” and was “rubbed out” by the PAC.

In a brief response, Paul Gallagher SC, for the PAC, rejected arguments the committee had failed to apply the appropriate legal protections for hearings before it.

The privilege accorded by the Constitution to “utterances” in the Oireachtas was of “prime importance” in this case, he added.