Politics

Thursday 21 August 2014

Ex-Rehab bosses can't be forced to appear before PAC

Shane Phelan

Published 17/07/2014 | 02:30

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Angela Kerins and (inset) Frank Flannery
Angela Kerins and (inset) Frank Flannery

THE Dail's spending watchdog has been formally refused permission to compel two former Rehab Group chief executives to give evidence.

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Angela Kerins and Frank Flannery will avoid an appearance at the Public Accounts Committee after the Dail's rules body decided the PAC would be exceeding its powers.

The decision was made by the rules body, the Committee on Procedure and Privilege (CPP), after it received senior counsel advice last night. It represents a major setback for the PAC's investigation of Rehab.

However, the CPP approved an application from the PAC to get compellability powers which would allow it to quiz a former SIPTU official, Matt Merrigan, and two other officials.

TDs wish to quiz Mr Merrigan over his role in setting up a multi-million euro "slush fund" account that was used to fund foreign trips.

The CPP was the only body which had the power to grant compellability powers to the PAC. It is expected to inform the spending watchdog of its formal decision shortly.

Debate

The crucial issue which settled the debate was the legal interpretation of the PAC's remit.

Technically, it is only supposed to examine bodies audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Although Rehab receives over €80m a year in state funding, it is not audited by the C&AG.

In a letter to the PAC last night, the CPP said the spending watchdog would be acting "ultra vires" – or in excess of its powers – by seeking to compel Mr Flannery and Ms Kerins.

This rules out the prospect of compelling the former Rehab bosses, who are unwilling to attend. However, as the C&AG has examined the so-called SIPTU slush fund, this paves the way for Mr Merrigan to be compelled.

The CPP said another SIPTU official, Jack Kelly, and a former Department of Health employee, Alan Smith, could also be compelled.

"Given the existence of the C&AG special report on this issue, the CPP is satisfied that this matter is within the terms of reference of the PAC," the decision letter said.

Both Ms Kerins and Mr Flannery had accused the PAC of "a gross abuse" of its position and of knowingly acting outside its remit.

Lawyers acting for Ms Kerins also claimed the committee was "compromised" and "biased" against her.

Irish Independent

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