Wednesday 26 October 2016

Angela Kerins 'took pills and alcohol in suicide bid' following PAC appearance - High Court

Shane Phelan, Legal Affairs Editor

Published 13/07/2016 | 11:55

Angela Kerins on the way to a hearing of the Dáil’s PAC. Photo: Tom Burke
Angela Kerins on the way to a hearing of the Dáil’s PAC. Photo: Tom Burke

The former chief executive of the Rehab Group, Angela Kerins, attempted suicide in the aftermath of her infamous appearance at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and would have died but for medical intervention.

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Ms Kerins took a large quantity of pills and some alcohol in her home and fell unconscious, but was rescued by a Rehab colleague who broke into the house out of concern.

She wrote notes for her family to explain her actions before the suicide bid.

“At the time I was very angry I did not succeed,” she said in an affidavit opened in court today.

The incident was revealed by counsel for Ms Kerins in the High Court, where she has begun an action for damages against the committee.

Opening the case, John Rogers SC detailed how on March 14, 2014, just over two weeks after a bruising appearance at the PAC, which focussed on her €240,000 salary and governance at Rehab, Ms Kerins “self-harmed”.

TAKING ACTION: Former Rehab boss Angela Kerins. Photo: Steve Humphreys
TAKING ACTION: Former Rehab boss Angela Kerins. Photo: Steve Humphreys

“She became unconscious in her own home and had to be rescued for her life,” said Mr Rogers.

In her affidavit, Ms Kerins said that following the hearing and negative publicity which accompanied it, she became “irrationally convinced that the solution was to sacrifice myself”.

She said she felt that if she was “off the planet” the furore would end.

“In short my death would solve the problem,” she said.

In the affidavit, she said she “consumed a large quantity of pills and some alcohol” at her home.

She said she did not succeed in taking her life after a colleague from Rehab gained access to the house and had her rushed to hospital.

After the incident she was admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital, where she remained until the following day.

Mr Rogers outlined events leading up to the suicide bid.

He said that after the PAC hearing on February 27 that year, during which there was repeated questioning about her salary, pension and bonuses, Ms Kerins became ill.

Mr Rogers said that on March 2, she “had a collapse in her health”.

He said she had a GP in Waterford and was admitted to the Whitfield private clinic.

She was under the care of a gastroenterologist and was referred to a psychiatrist.

Ms Kerins was discharged on March 6 and driven by a friend to the Beacon Hospital in Dublin, where she was admitted and remained until March 11.

The suicide attempt occurred three days later.

Mr Rogers described Ms Kerins as “a most courageous woman” and said her submission to the court had to be one of the most difficult a person can make.

He said that in January 2014, his client was “confronted” with a growing amount of material which was negative to her interests and reflected negatively on her character.

He pointed to a Sunday Independent article by former PAC member Shane Ross from January 12, 2014.

Mr Ross is now Minister for Transport.

This article dealt with an interview Ms Kerins gave to Morning Ireland presenter Gavin Jennings in which she was asked about her salary.

Mr Ross said in the piece that Ms Kerins’s “hubris was breathtaking”, referring to her response to questions about her remuneration.

Mr Rogers told the court that this article “set the tone” for what was to follow.

Ms Kerins was asked to attend the PAC in a letter on January 22 and there was further correspondence on February 27 outlining the format of the hearing.

“We know the PAC is a place, certainly in the past two years, where an invitee will go with some hesitancy,” said Mr Rogers.

Counsel said the tone of the meeting was critical.

“I think I can safely say members of the committee used, in some instances, upbraiding language,” said Mr Rogers.

“The meeting on occasion became judgemental. Ms Kerins was examined on private matters. She was re-examined and cross examined about her pension and bonuses.”

In Ms Kerins’s affidavit, she said she encountered a “tsunami of abuse” at the PAC hearing.

She said committee members pursued “a horrific agenda in the pursuit of headlines”.

Ms Kerins said she had not been naïve and had sought and received assurances in advance of the hearing that questioning would be limited to the publicly funded element of the charity and commercial group’s operations.

These were services funded by the HSE and Solus. It was also outlined that the Charitable Lotteries Fund, which had been the subject of a legal dispute between Rehab and the Department of Justice, would be discussed.

Ms Kerins pointed out in advance that her salary was not drawn from any public funding.

She said she was not coerced into attending the hearing, but at the same time her appearance could not be described as voluntary.

Ms Kerins said she was “helpless in the face of what happened next”.

She said it was “a McCarthy-like with hunt”. The committee engaged in “a real case of impression management, giving the impression that it was acting in the public interest”.

Ms Kerins said PAC members asked the same questions again and again, even though other members had asked them already.

She said she was “shocked” PAC chairman John McGuinness had not intervened on her behalf and that she felt she had been “entrapped” by him.

After the hearing, she had difficulty leaving the house and felt her name “had become like poison”.

A trip to the hairdressers was enough to produce sensational headlines. People had begun hanging around outside her house at night and she had a real fear of a break-in.

Ms Kerins said the negative publicity was affecting her family too. She said her husband was working outside the country and she had a duty to try to shield her children from it.

The former Rehab chief executive also said she had been the subject of an anonymous death threat.

She said her “whole world had been turned upside down” and the “exchanges of the meeting were quite devastating”.

The PAC had caused her to be humiliated in the national and international media and she had lost her job as a result.

“One of the PAC boasted that my resigning was one of their greatest achievements,” she said.

The affidavit said she resigned on April 1, 2014 and the resignation had effect on April 4.

After leaving Rehab she had spent a long period feeling “rudderless and directionless”.

She said it had taken her a long time to get her life back on track.

“Even now I can become overwhelmed,” she said.

The case, which is being heard by High Court President Peter Kelly, Mrs Justice Isobel Kennedy and Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, is set to last six days.

Ms Kerins is seeking damages, alleging she suffered personal injury, lost her job, and had her constitutional rights breached as a result of the conduct of the committee.

The committee denies her claims. It maintains it was entitled to question her in circumstances where 81pc of Rehab’s income in Ireland came from State contracts.

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