Wednesday 26 November 2014

PAC must compel appearance or bluff will be called

Published 11/04/2014 | 02:30

FRANK Flannery has called the bluff of the Dail Public Accounts committee.

The former Fine Gael strategist is around the political scene long enough to know the threat to compel him to appear before the taxpayers' watchdog is mere huff and puff.

Despite the new Oireachtas Inquiry legislation – enacted into law during the summer – giving committees more powers, Leinster House has still to get its act in gear. New ground rules, known as Standing Orders, for compelling witnesses have yet to be drafted.

The PAC has been seeking to get another witness in a separate investigation to appear for the best part of a year. But the application has got nowhere so far.

A request from the PAC has to be dealt with by another Oireachtas committee, which has shown little or no appetite to flex the parliament's new muscles. By the time the PAC gets around to even requesting Mr Flannery be forced to appear to answer questions over his relationship with Rehab, the matter will have long fallen off the agenda.

The Oireachtas Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures Act, 2013 became operational in September.

The act gives politicians legal powers to compel citizens to come before hearings once it gets approval from the Dail's powerful Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP). It does not give them the power to make findings of wrongdoing.

A committee must first invite an individual to come before a hearing but, if they refuse, a legal argument is sent to the CPP which is chaired by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett.

Anybody who seeks to evade the scrutiny of an Oireachtas committee is still on pretty solid ground.

Each case will have to be measured on its own merits.

Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness, the chairman of the PAC, pointed out yesterday that no member had an agenda against Mr Flannery.

However, there has been a great deal of comment around the links between Mr Flannery's roles with Fine Gael and Rehab – not least from members of the PAC.

The questions continue to mount for Mr Flannery.

The committee also heard that Mr Flannery earned €409,744 in fees from Rehab to lobby the Government between 2007 and last year.

His payments ranged from €40,000 in 2007 to €79,950 last year, figures given to the committee reveal. He resigned as CEO in 2006.

The committee has questions to ask as Rehab's pot of money comes from the Exchequer, donations and its business enterprises.

The manner in which these payments and his consultancy work was approved by former chief executive Angela Kerins – apparently without the knowledge of the board initially – also came under the spotlight yesterday.

At the moment, it is not clear if Ms Kerins will appear before the committee again, once she recovers from her illness.

The moral imperative on anybody asked to appear before an Oireachtas committee to accept the invitation remains.

But the Oireachtas still has to prove it has the legal wherewithal to force such an appearance.

Irish Independent

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