Gruelling day of Angela's Clashes as Kerins and McDonald stand ground
Published 28/02/2014 | 02:30
THE lads just sat back quietly and watched. One could almost sense the relief rising off them that they weren't getting the frosty third-degree from either of the formidable women who were locked in politely mortal combat in the crowded committee room.
The members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) weren't in the best of moods from the get-go, after a lawyer representing Rehab had warned that any detailed discussion on the salaries of the group's senior executives was strictly verboten.
This, of course, was precisely what the likes of Mary Lou McDonald, Shane Ross, Kieran O'Donnell and the rest of the PAC wanted to chew over with Rehab's generously-remunerated boss, Angela Kerins, who currently takes home a well-stuffed pay-packet of €240,000. And this figure only crawled into the public domain after it was dragged kicking and screaming out of the Rehab Group following a torrid spell of political pressure.
Naturally, the denizens of PAC took a dim view to this sort of financial foot-dragging, but Rehab argued that because the wages aren't paid from state funding such information is none of the committee's business.
Just after 10am, Angela Kerins arrived into the room trailed by a Beyonce-sized entourage. The biggest committee space was already packed with officials from government departments and from the HSE as well as a posse of politicians.
But there was only one person in the spotlight – this was going to be a day of Angela's Clashes, no doubt about it. And straight away a battle began between the Rehab boss and Sinn Fein's Mary Lou.
This was a confrontation, make no mistake, but it was the sort of icy polite back-and-forth produced by two women absolutely determined to stand their respective ground.
Mary Lou (politely) expressed her dissatisfaction with the fact that Rehab had dragged legal eagles into the business, setting down ground rules for the bout.
"Deputy, can you explain to me what the problem is with that?" asked Angela (politely).
"The problem, Ms Kerins, is that you're an agency in receipt of €83m a year of public funding. The problem with it is that you very stubbornly and publicly maintained a position that because you have commercial interests that really the general public, including volunteers who contribute to your organisation in charitable donations, are not to meddle or interfere or ask questions that you, in your collective wisdom, deem to be inappropriate," replied the clearly unimpressed deputy.
But Angela was sticking to her guns. In the carefully patient tone of an adult explaining something to a small child, she told Mary Lou that what she described as the "renumeration" of executives was assessed by independent experts. "It's not people deciding what they earn themselves."
There was palpable tension between the pair, but Mary Lou did winkle out a nugget or two. For instance, the committee discovered that Angela hadn't spent a sou of taxpayers' loot on travelling in helicopters.
"Every time I've been in a helicopter, it hasn't been mine and it's cost nothing," she said.
There was even better news for the taxpayer – for Angela revealed to Fine Gael's Kieran O'Donnell that she's entitled to a bonus of up to 35pc of her salary, or around €84,000, but has waived this right.
Oddly enough, there was no round of admiring applause from her audience. Shane Ross tried to get the other Rehab executives present to reveal their salaries.
No dice either. "I find this whole experience totally worthless," huffed an exasperated Shane – a view shared by Fine Gael's John Deasy, who lit into the Rehab chief.
"I've come to the conclusion that you've made a big song and dance about this, and it's unnecessary.
"I really think you need to get a grip of yourself," he said, saying the information "had to be dragged out of you".
"I think all this has done is prolong this, you should have a long, hard think".
A taken-aback Angela Kerins stared down at the tabletop in front of her, composing herself before returning to the fray.
It was a gruelling six-and-a-half-hour session for Team Rehab. But that's what foot-dragging gets you – a long, long walk home.