Taoiseach says Angela Kerins ‘very badly’ treated by PAC
Varadkar ‘glad’ referendum to give parliament more investigative power defeated
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would not be in favour of the introduction of e-voting machines but would be in favour of electronic counting machines. File photograph: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins was treated “very badly” by the previous Dáil Public Accounts Committee.
Speaking at a meeting of Oireachtas committee chairs on Thursday, he said the previous PAC “did treat some witnesses very badly a few years ago”.
“Notwithstanding all the issues around Ms Kerins salary I think she was badly treated by the previous PAC.”
His comments came following a judgment delivered on Wednesday by the Supreme Court which found PAC acted unlawfully as a whole in its treatment of Ms Kerins when she appeared before two hearings of the committee in 2014.
The Taoiseach said clear guidance was needed about what can and cannot happen in committees.
He also said he was glad the referendum to give parliament the power to carry out Oireachtas inquiries and make findings of fact against people, which he voted for, was defeated.
“I voted for that, I was part of the Government that proposed it. I am glad that people in their wisdom refused it because ultimately we are politicians and we need votes to stay in our jobs.
“We are driven by news cycles and if we are going to act in a judicial way, and make judgment on individuals when then you have to do it in a fair way and you have to listen to all of the evidence and you have to not comment on it before you have heard all the evidence and then come to your conclusions in a judicious way.”
On the issue of the election, Mr Varadkar said he would not be in favour of the introduction of e-voting machines but would be in favour of electronic counting machines.
He said the idea for electronic counting came from a conversation with Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
“I had a good discussion with Nicola Sturgeon the other day when she was in town. They use STV (single transferable vote) for some of their elections as we do. They don’t use electronic voting but they do use electronic counting.
“They have machines that you just feed the ballot papers into, they are glass, you can see what is going on and they are able to count their votes in a matter of hours whereas we could still be counting votes in Cork City Hall in a few days time.”
He said while he would never go for electronic voting again, “maybe we should think about electronic counting”.
“Perhaps we could borrow the machines from Scotland every now and then.”
On the electoral commission, he said the project is still in “gestation”.
“Particularly, we have this bizarre situation where we are setting up referendum commissions all the time, referendums are becoming a very frequent feature in Ireland and we are forever setting them up, closing them down, finding a judge and finding offices, it is kind of crazy. If we had a permanent electoral commission, so many of these things would be done much better, around the register as well.”
He said he wanted to research the high numbers of spoiled ballots over the weekend as well as turnout.
The Taoiseach said the accuracy of exit polls in elections will also need to be studied.
“The research that I found most interesting on the day was the exit poll, which turned out to be wrong beyond the margin of error on a lot of counts,” he said. “For the first day RTÉ and a lot of the media reported the exit poll and not the election. I saw Saoirse McHugh, a really impressive young woman from Achill being elected by Red C that morning, being interviewed on RTÉ all morning, and was not a runner-up.”
He said the Netherlands require media outlets, when they report opinion polls, not to report the median but to report the range.
“ So instead of saying that a party is at 32 per cent, they would have to say the party is actually at between 29 and 31 per cent. That would be more accurate and would be beneficial politically. It is something we should give some thought to.”
Mr Varadkar was also questioned on financial controls for large projects such as the national children’s hospital. He said he is looking into bringing in a system whereby companies would be judged on their past performances in projects.
“The one thing I would really like to change and I have the Attorney looking at this for me, and I don’t accept that it can’t be done under European law as some people say, is to have some sort of weighting around past form. I am not referring to any one company because I do not mean any one company. There are several of them in several fields that have not done a good job in the past and I don’t like to see them getting public contracts again.
“If you were going for a job in any office you would look at the references. Isn’t that an obvious thing we should have in our procurement process, a star rating.”
On Brexit, The Taoiseach also said there is a hardening view across the EU that there can not continue to be rolling extensions and added that the chances of a further extension are “pretty slim”.