Saturday 19 August 2017

'For sheer neck, noone has come within a whisper of Angela Kerins' - excerpt of Shane Ross' article read in court

Judgement reserved

Angela Kerins, the former CEO of Rehab, arriving at the High Court. Pic: Collins Courts
Angela Kerins, the former CEO of Rehab, arriving at the High Court. Pic: Collins Courts

Independent TD Shane Ross wrote an article after former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins and other Rehab officials appeared before the Dail Public Accounts Committee asserting, "for sheer neck, noone has come within a whisper of Angela Kerins and her charity gang", the High Court has been told.

John Rogers SC, for Ms Kerins, said Deputy Ross was then a member of the PAC and the tone of his March 2014 article in the Sunday Independent "plainly indicates" a state of mind adverse to Ms Kerins, Rehab and other persons mentioned in it, including another former Rehab CEO, Frank Flannery. 

He was making final arguments at the conclusion of a hearing before a three judge High Court concerning whether the PAC had jurisdiction to conduct two hearings on February 27th and April 2014 concerning public payments to Rehab as it had.

The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, with Mr Justice Seamus Noonan and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said they had "a great deal to consider" and would give judgment at a later date.

Ms Kerins claims the two PAC hearings amounted to an unlawful “witchhunt” against her outside the PAC’s jurisdiction and she wants damages on grounds including alleged personal injury, loss of reputation and loss of career.

 She claims she was so overwhelmed by what happened at the February 27th hearing she later attempted to take her life and could not attend the April 10th hearing.

 The PAC argues it had jurisdiction to conduct the hearings as it did and is entitled to scrutinise how public funds are spent in a context including some €80m public monies being paid annually to Rehab companies.

On Friday, Mr Rogers said the March 2014 article by Deputy Ross referred to the Rehab witnesses appearing before the PAC on February 27th and alleged the Committee was given the "two-finger treatment" with "key questions" left unanswered, including concerning Ms Kerins' "astronomical" €240,000 salary and "chunky bonuses" in the past. This was a member of the PAC discussing its business in public through his newspaper column, counsel said.

Mr Justice Kelly remarked it was "hardly a discussion" and Deputy Ross was "expressing trenchant views".

Mr Rogers said PAC was by this stage "wholly out of control" and its business was being discussed by one of its members in public when there was no recourse.

When Mr Justice Kelly remarked there was the option of a defamation action, Mr Rogers argeud there was no recourse in the context of the process of the Committtee.

Counsel also said the PAC Chairman, Indpendent TD John McGuinness, had written an article in the Irish Sun dealing with what Mr McGuinness regarded as Ms Kerins' "refusal" to appear again before the PAC.

He further argued Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald was permitted by the Chairman to "forcefully" pursue Rehab witnesses at the April 10th hearing to get them to "condemn" Ms Kerins in her absence.

When the two hearings were examined, it was difficult to see any process involving any restraint, there was a "free for all" and a "wholesale failure" to comply with constitutional justice, he said.

At the heart of this case was Ms Kerins' good name but nothing was done to protect her and it seemed there was an "animus" towards her, counsel said. Ms Kerins had "done some good", steered Rehab through the financial crisis between 2008 and 2014, and brought it to a point where it was providing high quality services and creating jobs. The Rehab witnesses had described her as successful but that "counted for nought" and was "rubbed out" by the PAC.

In a brief response, Paul Gallagher SC, for the PAC, rejected arguments the Committee failed to apply the appropriate legal protections for hearings before it. The privilege accorded by the Constitution to "utterances" in the Oireachtas was of "prime imnprtance" in this case, he added.

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