'Unfair questions' no basis for Angela Kerins to receive substantial damages - PAC lawyers tell High Court
Any finding that unfair questions were asked of former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins by members of the Dail Public Accounts Committee is no basis for ruling she is entitled to substantial damages, lawyers for the Committee have told the High Court.
Ms Kerins appeared voluntarily before the Committee in February 2014, raised many of the issues she now complains about, and told it she was glad to provide information about the services provided by Rehab, Paul Gallagher SC, for the PAC, said.
She told the PAC she understood its remit was to review public expenditure and ensure there is value for money and made clear she wanted to address the media speculation concerning Rehab, counsel said.
Having raised those issues, Ms Kerins could not possibly have believed she was not going to be asked questions about them, he said. Other representatives of Rehab also raised issues about its governance before the Committee.
There was also no dispute PAC is entitled to scrutinise if the public was getting value for some €80m public funds paid annually to Rehab and no basis for arguments PAC acted outside its jurisdiction, he argued.
It would be “dangerous” for the courts to find otherwise as that would leave any Oireachtas committee vulnerable to oversight by the courts, he said. This was particularly so because protocols had been put in place to protect the constitutional rights of those appearing before committees.
Counsel also argued no issues of bias towards Ms Kerins arose in this case.
A three judge High Court is continuing to hear arguments over whether PAC had jurisdiction to conduct two hearings concerning public payments to Rehab.
Ms Kerins claims the hearings on February 27th and April 10th 2014 amounted to an unlawful “witchhunt” against her which was outside PAC’s jurisdiction. She claims she was bullied and harassed and was so overwhelmed after the February 27th hearing she attempted to take her life on March 14th.
As a result, she was unable to attend the April 10th hearing, it is claimed. She wants damages on grounds including alleged personal injury, loss of reputation and loss of career.
PAC argues it had jurisdiction to conduct the hearings as it did and is entitled to scrutinise how public funds are spent. The Committee also contends the courts should not engage in dissecting statements made by PAC members and the appropriate and only recourse Ms Kerins has is to the Dail Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP).
Today, Mr Gallagher argued there was no free standing power of the court to say, if it found inappropriate or irrelevant questions were asked or a tone adopted that should not have been adopted, that carried the PAC outside jurisdiction.
In this case, the most that could be said was the PAC made “errors” but that did not carry it outside jurisdiction.
While not arguing the courts cannot intervene in appropriate cases, the Oireachtas has set up a procedure to provide protections for constitutional rights and protocols had been issued which addressed any concerns that arise in this case, he said. That was how to address the problem.
Ms Kerins made no effort to engage with the appropriate Oireachtas standing order procedure to pursue her complaints, he argued.
Counsel said the CPP decision refusing the PAC powers to compel Ms Kerins to appear before the Committee should be an end of any jurisdictional or other matters. If the court ruled it could address jurisdictional issues, PAC’s case was it had jurisdiction.
The hearing continues.