Dáil committee 'invaded private affairs' of Kerins
The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) engaged in "a frolic" for which it had no mandate and no basis in law during its questioning of former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins, the High Court has been told.
John Rogers SC, for Ms Kerins, said the PAC invaded her private affairs, seeking to hold her accountable when it had "no legal basis" for doing so.
The comments came on the fourth day of Ms Kerins's High Court action against the committee, the State and the Attorney General. She is seeking damages, claiming she lost her €240,000-a-year job, suffered a collapse in health and attempted suicide following an appearance before the PAC in February 2014.
Ms Kerins has alleged members of the committee engaged in "a vendetta" against her, repeatedly seeking private information about salaries and pension arrangements at the charity and commercial group.
The three-judge court is to decide the extent of the PAC's jurisdiction to conduct inquiry hearings before other issues, including any liability to damages, are addressed.
Mr Rogers said some PAC members made comments and statements demonstrating bias, including subjective bias, towards Ms Kerins.
He said bias was evident at a PAC public hearing that she attended on February 27, 2014, and "absolutely apparent" at a second hearing on April 10, 2014, which she did not attend.
The most significant occasions of that came from questions from Independent TD Shane Ross and Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald when they "specifically" targeted Ms Kerins, he said.
Deputy McDonald pursued questions "loaded with suggestions" that Ms Kerins had damaged Rehab and used words expressing "disdain" for Ms Kerins. The TD also inferred some impropriety by Ms Kerins in relation to a company, Complete Eco Solutions Ltd, counsel said.
This was a company co-owned by Ms Kerins's husband, from which a Rehab company had bought coffins imported from China in 2010.
Deputy Ross had pursued a Rehab board member at the April 10 hearing over whether a complaint had been made against Ms Kerins and "outed" that there was such a complaint, which was a matter "entirely private" to Rehab.
PAC chairman John McGuinness also made comments that showed a willingness to condemn Ms Kerins, including describing her conduct as "deplorable", counsel said.
A recorded extract from the April 10 hearing was played to the court yesterday.
Ms Kerins was not part of the Rehab delegation that attended that hearing.
In her proceedings against the members of that PAC and the State, Ms Kerins claims she became so overwhelmed as a result of her treatment on February 27 that she tried to take her life on March 14 and was unfit to attend the second hearing.
The PAC denies her claims, denies it conducted itself unlawfully, showed bias towards her or was guilty of misfeasance in public office. It also denies it is a fact-finding committee and pleads its hearings were in the public interest.
Mr Rogers argued there can be an examination of the remuneration of officers of charities, but that, without legislation, the PAC cannot examine the pay of individuals. He relied on various court decisions, particularly in the Abbeylara case, to argue the PAC hearings concerning Ms Kerins had no legal basis.
Those decisions addressed the powers of Oireachtas committees and effectively shut down an Oireachtas sub-committee investigation into the shooting dead by armed gardaí of John Carthy during a siege at Abbeylara in 2000.
The sub-committee, the courts held, had no power to make adverse findings that could impugn the good name of a person not a member of the Oireachtas. While the PAC argued it was not a fact-finding body, its members made statements and comments derogatory of Ms Kerins and directed to the character of Ms Kerins and her reputation, Mr Rogers said.
Paul Gallagher SC, for the PAC, is due to begin its response today.