Thursday 25 December 2014

PAC seeks new powers to force former Rehab chiefs to appear

Daniel McConnell, Group Political Correspondent

Published 02/05/2014 | 02:30

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

Unprecedented powers are being sought to compel two former Rehab CEOs to answer questions before the Public Accounts Committee.

The committee is preparing to seek legal powers to force Frank Flannery and Angela Kerins to appear before them after recent controversies surrounding the disability organisation.

PAC chairman John McGuinness rejected allegations contained in legal letters sent by solicitors acting for Ms Kerins and Mr Flannery on Wednesday.

The committee members were unanimous in their rejection of criticisms contained in the legal letters, which they saw as attempts to "attack the committee". Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald said the letters were an attempt to "throw the kitchen sink at the committee" and were designed to "stall and delay" its work.

Independent TD Shane Ross said there is a "contrived tissue of allegations" in the letters.

And Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming said the claims in the letters were "a disgrace". Mr Fleming said he rejected "out of hand that at any stage I abused my powers" on the committee.

The meeting also heard that public bodies that provide funding to Rehab have said that – other than data protection issues and commercial sensitivity – there is "no legal impediment" to providing information to the PAC.

Both former chief executives failed to appear before the committee last month.

The PAC has drafted a letter applying to the Dail's oversight committee, the Committee on Procedures and Privileges, to seek the powers to compel Mr Flannery and Ms Kerins to appear before it.

The application is currently being examined by the committee's legal adviser, Melissa English, before it can be approved by members.

Mr McGuinness said it was "clear from the tone" of the letters that the pair do not accept that PAC has a right to examine the way Rehab spends €95.5m in public money every year.

But Mr McGuinness got himself into hot water with some members after he read a confidential letter from Mr Flannery's solicitor into the record.

The letter from Robert Dore accused Mr McGuinness of "belittling" an earlier letter he had sent to committee.

"It is very easy to score cheap shots for your own expedience, but at my expense, while skulking behind the shield of parliamentary privilege," Mr Dore wrote.

'PETTY'

"Your readiness to abuse this privilege calls into question your suitability to be a member of any Oireachtas committee not to mind your suitability to be chairman of such an exalted one," he added.

Mr Dore said he was in no doubt the letter would be leaked to the media or end up in Mr McGuinness's "nonsense file".

Mr McGuinness said he rejected an assertion by Mr Dore that he contacted the Revenue Commissioners to investigate Mr Flannery.

Fine Gael TDs John Deasy and Eoghan Murphy criticised Mr McGuinness for reading the letter into the record. "This is getting petty. So I think we should drop it," Mr Deasy said.

Irish Independent

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