Wednesday 28 September 2016

PAC Chairman failed to protect Angela Kerins during Rehab payments hearing, High Court hears

Published 14/07/2016 | 18:55

Angela Kerins leaving the High Court
Angela Kerins leaving the High Court

A hearing of the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into payment of public monies to the Rehab Group was "truly an inquiry into the charity sector" and the earnings of people in that sector, the High Court has been told

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“If you were in the way of that, the PAC steamroller would knock you down,” John Rogers SC said.

Former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins was publicly exposed by PAC, “with no notice whatever”, to questions about the charity which inferred impropriety, lack of transparency and “even illegality”, he said.

PAC had no jurisdiction to question Ms  Kerins about payments made BY Rehab, a private entity, as opposed to questioning her about payments of public monies TO Rehab, he argued.

PAC Chairman John McGuinness, he added, failed to protect Ms Kerins or ensure hearings of February 27 and April 10, 2014, concerning Rehab were conducted within parameters of a notice served on her on February 18.

Members of the Committee “condemned” Ms  Kerins and another former Rehab CEO Frank  Flannery as a result of questions and comments made during both hearings, he said.

Ms Kerins, who did not attend the April 10 meeting due to ill-health,  was “deeply affected” by a line of questioning at that meeting “designed” to get answers from other Rehab officials that was going to discredit her and Mr Flannery, he said.

Mr Rogers was continuing his opening of a hearing to decide the jurisdiction of PAC to conduct such hearings.

That issue, with implications for future PAC  inquiries, is central to Ms Kerins action against PAC and the State in which she is seeking damages for alleged personal injuries and reputational damage based on claims PAC conducted itself unlawfully, showed bias towards her and was guilty of misfeasance in public office.

The hearing, which resumes on Tuesday, is before a three judge High Court comprising court President, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy.

PAC denies it acted outside its jurisdiction and pleads Ms  Kerins voluntarily agreed to attend before it on February 27.

Ms Kerins was in court on Thursday when Mr Rogers indicated his side may next week play a video recording of part of the April 10 hearing to show “most egregious abuse of power” by PAC.

PAC wants to make available to the court other parts of the video recordings, the court heard.

Mr Rogers said, during the seven hour session on February 27, 2014, PAC members persisted in questioning Ms Kerins about “entirely private” matters such as salaries and payments despite being told Rehab was a private and not a public body.

Less than half of the group’s income comes from public funds and the  “trigger” for PAC’s entitlement to engage in any examination "had not been pulled" as there was no audit here by the Comptroller & Auditor General.

While PAC cannot make findings of fact, it was clear members were reaching "conclusions" and making "statements" during the hearings. Mr McGuiness and other members made comments that effectively accused Ms Kerins of not being in compliance and presented her as being unco-operative,  counsel said.

At the April 10 meeting, Mr McGuinness made contradictory comments, counsel said.

He had wished Ms Kerins a speedy recovery but also said it was “deplorable” she was not present and made “judgmental” comments including that the “game of cat and mouse” should be over in the interests of the charity sector.

The Rehab delegation to that meeting was “forced”, for “compelling public relations reasons”, to report to PAC on the workings of an “entirely private” enterprise, he said.

While Ms Kerins attended on February 27 in a voluntary capacity, Mr McGuinness later publicly said she had not done what PAC required with the implication it was entitled to require her to do something when it was not, counsel said. 

The position was “do as I say even though I have no authority”.

Ms Kerins has claimed she felt she must attend before the Committee on February 27 to protect the Rehab group because of a “media storm” concerning the group arising, she claims, from statements of members of PAC.

After that hearing, she became so overwhelmed by the conduct she reached a point by March 14, 2014, where she felt the solution to the problem was her death and tried to end her life, she said.

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