Saturday 27 December 2014

Ex-CRC boss challenges Dail watchdog’s right to question him

Shane Phelan, Public Affairs Editor

Published 01/07/2014 | 10:14

Brian Conlan, former CEO of CRC
Brian Conlan, former CEO of CRC

The former chief executive of the Central Remedial Clinic has questioned whether the Dail’s spending watchdog has the legal right to question him later this week.

Brian Conlan is one of a number of figures linked to the CRC who have been invited to give evidence to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) following the publication of a damning report by the interim administrator of the disability organisation.

Lawyers acting for Mr Conlan, who resigned over the wage top-up controversy, which involved public donations being used to increase the salaries of staff, have written to the committee expressing concerns it does not have jurisdiction to question their client.

In doing so he becomes the latest high-profile figure to challenge the authority of the committee. Two former Rehab group chief executives, Angela Kerins and Frank Flannery, have refused to appear at hearings, claiming the committee is exceeding its remit. Former SIPTU official Matt Merrigan has also refused to comply with requests from the committee to appear.

The PAC is currently seeking powers to compel all three to give evidence. 

Fine Gael chief whip Paul Kehoe and Oireachtas Health Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer have also accused the committee of exceeding its remit by investigating bodies which are not audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Mr Conlan previously gave evidence to the PAC in January, a hearing at which a number of committee members expressed disbelief at the former chief executive’s assertion he was unaware of a number of matters, including the €700,000 retirement package given to his predecessor, Paul Kiely.

A letter from his solicitors, Giles J Kennedy and Co, to the PAC said Mr Conlan had still not decided whether he will appear at Thursday’s hearing.

“We have advised our client that in our opinion there is a serious question mark as to whether PAC has any lawful jurisdiction to embark on an enquiry into the accounts, reports or executive remuneration of the CRC,” the letter said.

“We must advise that it is our opinion that PAC do not have lawful jurisdiction to review a number of matters contained in the (administrator’s) report.”

The letter went on to say Mr Conlan “neither refuses nor consents” to appear at the hearing and that before deciding whether to appear requested a “formal legal invitation” be sent to him, setting out exactly what he is to be questioned on.

Mr Conlan’s lawyers also asked for a guarantee that errors they contend exists in the administrator’s report be corrected at the committee hearing.

PAC member Shane Ross described the letter as “another piece of camouflage” and said Mr Conlan had a duty to appear.

“Mr Conlan came in before and should come in again to respond to the unacceptable events which happened at the CRC under the old board,” said Mr Ross. 

In the letter Mr Conlan’s lawyers argued their client had not had any function or role at the CRC since November 13 last year, and was not in possession of any documents, files, or minutes of meetings.

They also point out that Mr Conlan was never a member of the remuneration committee of the CRC board and was never chief executive of the fundraising company, the Friends and Supporters of CRC Ltd.

The letter claims that at his last appearance before the committee, Mr Conlan was “subjected to questions based on blatant factual inaccuracies”.

It also contends he was “subjected to aggressive, unfair and biased cross examination by certain members of the committee”.

The report by interim administrator John Cregan found that the only rationale for the establishment of the Friends and Supporters of the CRC as a company separate from the CRC was to maximise HSE funding.

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