Dáil committee questioning of Angela Kerins was an ‘outrage’, court told
Posted on 8th April 2019 at 13:50
PAC hearing was controversial from the start, John Rogers SC tells Supreme Court
Former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins was invited by the Dáil Public Accounts Committee to appear before it to discuss limited matters but it was “open season” when she got there, the Supreme Court has been told.
What happened at the first PAC hearing on February 27th, 2014 concerning Rehab was an “outrage” and the PAC chairman John McGuinness “was not doing his job”, John Rogers SC said.
Ms Kerins tried to make clear from the outset the limits of what she was there to discuss but the hearing was “controversial from the start”.
Ms Kerins was treated to commentary about her private communications with people completely unrelated to Rehab, he said.
Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald engaged in a critique of Ms Kerins’s salary and asked whether she had any concept of the “accountability and responsibility” she held, he said.
In what was an intervention into the private affairs of a private entity, Ms Kerins was also asked had she “benchmarked” herself against the position of former Rehab CEO Frank Flannery and what his “pension pot” might be.
Then Labour Party TD Robert Dowds had referred to a “moral obligation” on charities in relation to how staff are paid while Labour Party Deputy Ged Nash asked about salary details of other employees of Rehab, he said.
Ms Kerins was also subject to criticism by several other members including then Independent TD Shane Ross, Fine Gael TD John Deasy and Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming, he said.
The chairman had at the end of the meeting said the PAC had gone “a little bit” beyond its remit but had reiterated various criticisms and also said Mr Flannery should attend before the PAC, counsel said. Mr McGuinness had also asked Ms Kerins what “coaching” had gone into the Rehab witnesses’ preparation for the meeting.
After that hearing, Ms Kerins was regrettably hospitalised for a period and Mr Flannery had resigned on March 10th from the Rehab board and its subsidiaries, he said. Ms Kerins had resigned on April 2nd, 2014 before the second hearing on April 10th.
Independent TD Shane Ross had described Ms Kerins’s resignation on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland as an “achievement” of the PAC, he said.
All of this should be seen against a background of publicly expressed concerns in early 2014 about the PAC acting outside its remit, he said. Before Ms Kerins appeared before the PAC on February 27th, Deputy Ross had written a newspaper column strongly critical of Ms Kerins, he also said.
The seven-judge court is hearing further submissions before deciding its final judgment on whether or not the PAC acted unlawfully “as a whole” in its treatment of Ms Kerins.
The case raises important issues concerning the constitutional separation of powers and the courts’ ability to intervene in proceedings of Oireachtas Committees.
It arises from Ms Kerins’s treatment at two PAC hearings in 2014 into payments to Rehab, where questions were asked about her €240,000 annual salary and other matters.
She voluntarily attended the first hearing on February 27th, 2014 and said her treatment was such she was too unwell to attend the second in April 2014.
The PAC has denied her claims and argued it was entitled to scrutinise how public monies are spent when about €83m of public monies were paid annually to Rehab companies.
The Supreme Court last February found in favour of Ms Kerins on key issues but said it needed to hear further submissions on specified matters before finalising its decision on the appeal.
Among its core findings in its February 27th judgment was that there is no “absolute barrier” to the bringing of proceedings concerning the actions of a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
In this case, a combination of factors lead to it being appropriate for a court to intervene, it said.
Those factors were 1) the cumulative effect of the PAC acting “very significantly” outside its terms of reference; 2) acting in a manner the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP) had found was outside its powers; 3) the possibility (if that could be established) the PAC engaged in an unlawful and unfair process by acting as a whole in a manner which led to a citizen accepting an invitation on one basis, but being treated differently on attendance; 4) and the fact the Oireachtas had not acted to deal with these matters.
The core issue being addressed in today’s hearing concerns whether the actions of the PAC “as a whole”, given the nature of its invitation to Ms Kerins to appear before it, amounted to an unlawful and unfair process.
If those matters are resolved in favour of Ms Kerins, the court has said it will declare the PAC acted unlawfully in how it questioned her by reason of acting significantly outside its terms of reference and in a manner significantly different from the basis of its invitation to appear before it.
The court will also decide whether the appropriate defendant in the case is the Dáil rather than the individual members of the PAC.
Issues related to whether or not Ms Kerins is entitled to any damages would require another hearing and that issue is not before the court as of now, it said.
The appeal is continuing.
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