Thursday 29 September 2016

Three high-profile TDs set out to damage Angela Kerins’ reputation, court heard

Shane Phelan Legal Affairs Editor

Published 19/07/2016 | 14:02

Angela Kerins Photo: Collins
Angela Kerins Photo: Collins

Lawyers for former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins have singled out three high-profile TDs who they believe set out to damage her reputation.

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John Rogers SC named Transport Minister Shane Ross, Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, and Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness.

The allegation was made on the third day of Ms Kerins’s High Court action seeking damages over her alleged ill-treatment during a hearing of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee in 2014.

Ms Kerins claims she was forced to attempt suicide after a bruising encounter with the PAC, which she alleged engaged in “a vendetta” against her.

She is suing the committee, the State and the Attorney General for damages, alleging she suffered a collapse in her health and lost her €240,000 job as boss of the charity and commercial group as a result of her treatment by the PAC.

Referring to transcripts of PAC hearings on February 27 and April 10, 2014, Mr Rogers said: “When the court looks at the totality of the transcripts, and I am referring specifically to Deputy McGuinness, Deputy McDonald and Deputy Ross, their intention was to go after the reputation of Angela Kerins.”

He said Ms McDonald had made comments which were “judgmental”, damning” and “disparaging” of Ms Kerins.

Referring to questions Ms McDonald posed to Rehab chairman Brian Kerr, Mr Rogers said she had “formed the view Ms Kerins had damaged Rehab and she wanted confirmation of that from the Rehab board”.

He said other passages suggested Mr McGuinness had adopted a position that was “condemnatory of Ms Kerins”.

Mr Ross, meanwhile, had sought to get details of a complaint against Ms Kerins by a Rehab staff member, which was being dealt with through a confidential internal process.

Mr Rogers said the line of questioning showed Ms Kerins was “the subject of reputational pursuit by Mr Ross”.

“It [the PAC] damaged her reputation and caused her to resign. It was all done in the guise of the PAC having the purported jurisdiction to carry out that process,” he said.

The barrister told a three-judge High Court that Ms Kerins was told in a letter from the committee that the focus of the February 27 hearing would be on the use of HSE and Solas funds paid to Rehab to provide services for people with disabilities, as well as payments under the Charitable Lotteries Fund, which was administered by the Department of Justice.

Responding to a question from High Court President, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, Mr Rogers said the committee exceeded its jurisdiction on February 27 and that very little of its questioning related to the matters detailed in the letter.

Instead the PAC began focusing on private salary information, pension arrangement and Rehab Group’s commercial dealings.

“The remit was transformed into a root and branch analysis of anything in the internal workings of the group,” he said.

He said lawyers for Ms Kerins wrote to the committee before a follow-up hearing on April 10, stating she was too ill to attend.

Mr Rogers said that letter “put up in neon” that there was a failure by the committee to comply with its remit and that Ms Kerins’s reputation had been damaged.

The court heard the PAC replied stating that it hoped Ms Kerins, when she recovered, would be able to assist the committee with further inquiries, if necessary.

Mr Rogers told the court that the Committee on Procedures and Privileges (CPP), which has an oversight role over other Oireachtas committees, later decided that the PAC did not have the power to compel Ms Kerins to attend future hearings.

The PAC had argued it had an implicit role to make inquiries of bodies in receipt of public money, even if they were not audited by the Comptroller & Auditor General.

Under Dáil standing orders it is supposed to be confided to examining bodies audited by the C&AG, but in practice it has looked into other organisations on several occasions.

He read from a letter from the CPP to PAC in July 2014, which stated: “As no such account or report exists or has been presented to Dáil Éireann, the examination into the internal affairs of Rehab is ultra vires the PAC.

“The PAC does not have the implied power to investigate the use of monies by any person or company or other body simply because they are in receipt of money from a body that is itself lawfully subject to scrutiny by the PAC.”

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