PAC chairman 'admitted it exceeded remit in Kerins quiz'
Published 15/07/2016 | 02:30
The former chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) admitted that it had acted outside its remit in questioning ex-Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins, the High Court has heard.
Counsel for Ms Kerins said Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness made "a tacit admission" during the committee hearing which she claimed prompted her to attempt to take her own life.
John Rogers SC said it was clear that the committee knowingly behaved illegally in its line of questioning, which focused repeatedly on Ms Kerins's €240,000 privately funded salary and commercial matters at Rehab.
Referring to the PAC, he said: "What emerges now is the clearest evidence of abuse of power, acting outside your jurisdiction when clearly knowing you were doing so."
The accusation came on the second day of a High Court action by Ms Kerins, who is seeking damages over her alleged ill-treatment by the committee.
Mr Rogers spent the day conducting what he described as "a forensic appraisal" of the transcripts of two PAC meetings.
Ms Kerins attended the first one on February 27, 2014, but not the second one a few weeks later, on April 10, due to ill health.
During the first hearing, Mr McGuinness stated: "We have acted generally within our remit. We may have gone a little bit beyond it in pursuing salaries and so on, but that was because we wanted to get an overall view of the organisation."
Mr Rogers said the jurisdiction enjoyed by the committee was fundamental to the case. Under Standing Order 163 of Dáil Éireann, the PAC has the power to inquire into bodies which are audited by the Comptroller & Auditor General. Rehab, a charity with a substantial private commercial business, was not such a body.
"Either there is jurisdiction under Standing Order 163 or there is not," said Mr Rogers.
He said committee members asked detailed questions about private matters, such as the earnings of executives at Rehab and its subsidiaries, consultancy contracts with its former chief executive, Frank Flannery, and its dealings with a commercial coffin-making business.
Mr Rogers told the court that the PAC's attitude was: "Do as I say, even though I have no authority." Its examination of Rehab was "truly an inquiry into the charity sector" and the earnings of people in that sector, he said.
"If you were in the way of that, the PAC steamroller would knock you down," said Mr Rogers.
Ms Kerins is seeking damages for personal injuries and reputational damage and has alleged that the PAC engaged in "a vendetta" against her.
She claims to have suffered a collapse in her health in the aftermath of the February 27 hearing, due to stress.
The court was told on Wednesday that she was hospitalised for several days and attempted to take her own life after being discharged. Ms Kerins has claimed that she felt "forced" into doing this as a result of "bullying, harassment and persecution" led by members of the PAC.
The hearing resumes next Tuesday.