Saturday 27 December 2014

PAC members claims it is being "nobbled" in its attempts to investigate Rehab

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 12/06/2014 | 11:22

10/01/2014  
Independent TD Shane Ross speaking to media on Irish Water Costs on the plinth of Leinster house, Dublin.
Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Independent TD Shane Ross

TWO high profile Dail committees are on collision course amid claims attempts are being made to "nobble" the Dail's spending watchdog's investigation of the charity Rehab.

Public Accounts Committee members Shane Ross and Mary Lou McDonald both criticised a more powerful Dail committee, which has so far refused to give the PAC powers to compel unwilling witnesses to give evidence.

At its meeting this morning the PAC resolved to seek independent legal advice on the issue.

The PAC has been seeking to compel former Rehab chief executives Angela Kerins and Frank Flannery, as well as former SIPTU official Matt Merrigan, to give evidence as part of two separate investigations it is pursuing.

However, the Dail Committee on Procedure and Privilege (CPP), which is chaired by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, has delayed making a decision and on Wednesday evening said it was seeking further information from the PAC about why it wants to compel the witnesses.

The PAC cannot initiate legal moves to compel the attendance of Ms Kerins, Mr Flannery or Mr Merrigan without the approval of the CPP.

Mr Ross described the request from the CPP for more information as "a bit of camouflage" and "a refusal by any other name".

"I do think this is a very strong challenge to the PAC, probably an attempt to nobble us," he said.

The independent TD accused the CPP of coming back looking for information which wasn't necessary for a decision on compellability to be made.

"This is a serious situation for us," he said.

Mr Ross also questioned why the CPP meets in secrecy. He had attempted to attend last night's meeting of the CPP as an observer, but was refused access. He described the operation of the CPP as "cloak and dagger stuff."

Ms McDonald suggested that forces in Government did not want the PAC to continue its investigation of Rehab.

"I think this is an attempt to nobble us and I don't think it is the first attempt," she said.

"I have to say I am very unhappy with it," she continued.

Mr Ross suggested the committee get independent legal advice before responding to the CPP. This was agreed by the PAC which is seeking to resolve the issue before the Dail's summer recess.

Both Ms Kerins and Mr Flannery have failed to appear before the committee, despite a number of requests.

They have accused the PAC of “a gross abuse” of its position and of knowingly acting outside its remit.

While Ms Kerins did attended one hearing, she failed to appear at a second one, citing illness.

She retired suddenly from her position in April following controversy over her €240,000 salary, sums earned by other senior executives at the group, and the poor performance of Rehab’s lottery scratch card game.

Her predecessor as chief executive, former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery, has said that while he was willing to attend the PAC, the agenda the committee wished to pursue was outside its remit and as a result he was declining its invitation.

Committee members have indicated they wish to question Mr Flannery about his pension, his involvement in paid lobbying on behalf of Rehab, and his involvement in a coffin importation business with links to Rehab.

He resigned from his role with Fine Gael following controversy over his non appearance at the committee.

The PAC is also seeking to compel former SIPTU official Matt Merrigan to give evidence about his role in setting up a multi-million euro "slush fund" account that was used to fund foreign trips.

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