Oireachtas faces major decision on PAC’s powers in April after Kerins ruling

Court rules public accounts committee acted outside remit when questioning ex-Rehab chief

The committee hearing in 2015 examined costs, salaries and allowances of voluntary organisations that were in receipt of State funding and Angela Kerins was questioned at length about her salary arrangements at Rehab. File photograph: Collins Courts

The committee hearing in 2015 examined costs, salaries and allowances of voluntary organisations that were in receipt of State funding and Angela Kerins was questioned at length about her salary arrangements at Rehab. File photograph: Collins Courts

 

The Houses of the Oireachtas will be forced to make a major decision in April to either curb the powers of the public accounts committee (PAC) or greatly expand its remit in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in the case taken by Angela Kerins.

Senior political sources in Leinster House said no decision would be taken on the future powers of the PAC until the final part of the Supreme Court judgment was delivered in April. It will also wait until the court’s judgment in a separate case, against the Oireachtas and its Committee on Procedure and Privileges by businessman Denis O’Brien, in relation to the disclosure in the Dáil by Catherine Murphy of details relating to the sale of Siteserv to a company associated with him.

However, one source, a whip of a party, said a showdown was now inevitable as the PAC had been found to be in breach of standing orders, and also was the subject of complaints by other Oireachtas committees for incursions into their territory.

Implications

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled the PAC acted “significantly outside its remit” in its questioning of former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins.

Timmy Dooley, the Fianna Fáil member of the commission, said it would now have to take a very serious look at the judgment and its implications.

“It raises a flag in how committees exercise their functions. Over time we will have to address that,” he said.

He continued: “In light of the judgment, various different members of all committees will have to take stock of that.”

Salary

The PAC hearing in 2015 examined costs, salaries and allowances of voluntary organisations that were in receipt of State funding and Ms Kerins was questioned at length about her salary arrangements at Rehab.

On Wednesday, the court held it would not be a breach of the separation of powers for it to declare the actions of the PAC unlawful in light of the fact that the PAC was acting outside its terms of reference and that a relevant committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas, namely the the Committee on Procedures and Privileges, had come to that view.

The court has invited further submissions on whether or not there was a “substantial breach of its obligations” and has reserved judgment on that matter until April.

‘Lengthy judgment’

Fianna Fáíl TD John McGuinness was chairman of the PAC at the time. When contacted on Wednesday, he said he could not comment as he had not had an opportunity to read what was a “lengthy judgment” or receive a briefing from Oireachtas lawyers.

Mr Dooley, when asked by reporters had the PAC been involved in ambulance chasing, rejected the portrayal.

The former Fine Gael TD Áine Collins, a member of the PAC in 2014, said: “The Supreme Court judgment is actually the right decision. What happened in 2014 was incorrect.”