News Shane Ross

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Day of reckoning looms for defiant Rehab duo

The refusal of Kerins and Flannery to appear before the committee is merely prolonging the agony for all parties, writes Shane Ross

Shane Ross

Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30

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HAVE Angela Kerins and Frank Flannery stymied the Public Accounts Committee?

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The appearance of battered relics of the Rehab board at the PAC last week was Hamlet without the princess – or the prince. The absence of Angela and Frank spoke volumes. Two fingers to the PAC. Send in the courtiers. They know little because they were never told very much.

The Rehab directors looked drawn, nervous and humble. Arrogant Angela could have eaten them for breakfast.

The two former Rehab powerhouses have thrown down the gauntlet to the PAC. They have eyeballed us, but the PAC is not in blinking mood. The refusal of the Rehab duo to appear as witnesses last Thursday may bring temporary relief, but will merely prolong the agony for all parties.

The biggest losers are the disabled clients of Rehab. Funding from the collection boxes is drying up. Even the State may take a fresh look at supporting Rehab, as both Kerins and Flannery have defied the express wishes of the Taoiseach.

The imperative to bring the two refugees from Rehab into the PAC has moved up a gear. At the hearings attended by Rehab board members on Thursday, Ms Kerins's defence – that commercial confidentiality prevented her from revealing her salary and bonuses–- went up in smoke. Committee members Mary Lou McDonald, John McGuinness , Kieran O'Donnell and Sean Fleming put paid to that little canard.

Part of her salary was shown to have come from taxpayers' money. Contrary to Angela's assertions, the PAC has a key role in determining if the money is well spent. Her claim – that it is none of our business at the PAC – was shredded.

Legal letters from solicitors acting for both former chief executives landed in the laps of the PAC last week. Veiled threats were included in the correspondence. Significantly, defiant as they were, neither party excluded the possibility of an appearance in the future.

We look forward to welcoming Angela Kerins when she recovers her health and Frank Flannery when he sees the PAC as an opportunity to clear the air. If they refuse the next invitation, we will seek compulsory powers. It may take a few months, but delay will not be a deterrent.

As it happens, we may never need either of them. Information is leaking its way to committee members drop by drop. Last week, the embattled board itself began to release nuggets. The directors, pleading that they were gagged by legal letters from Kerins and Flannery, forbidding them to give details of their pay and bonuses, still managed to release a €409,000 figure for Flannery's consultancy fees over a seven-year period.

That figure alone was dynamite, suggesting that there are more explosives buried in Rehab's arsenal.

The board is contrite. Angela and Frank are defiant. The split in the survival strategies of former friends is certain to cause others to spill the beans. Bitterness will soon set in.

Angela Kerins seems to have made plenty of enemies during her tenure at Rehab. Her dominant style rubbed many former employees up the wrong way. Members of the PAC are receiving daily calls from them, some disgruntled, others seemingly detached observers of a charity that has been run like a personal fiefdom. The scales over the eyes of formerly star-struck board members may begin to fall.

More significantly, the board was pathetically repentant on Thursday. Their public relations outfit had advised them to emerge with their hands up, admitting glaring corporate governance lapses. The chairman had been in office for 32 years, the chairman of the remuneration committee for nearly 25. They were tired, but well-meaning, believers in the charity and long-time, loyal followers of Angela.

Chairman Brian Kerr, a decent elderly man in a wheelchair, seemed dazzled. He had obviously not been kept in the loop about much, including earlier consultancy payments to Frank Flannery. He was speechless when it came to questions about Rehab's whistleblower's policy; but he was eager to admit that he had made mistakes, as were they all.

When queried about whether they were a board dominated by one woman, Kerr was willing to concede the possibility, while his three male colleagues protested. They still sang her praises, despite all that had happened.

Rehab's finance director Keith Poole is not a board member. He looked detached from the others, distinctly uncomfortable when I asked each of the witnesses about working with Kerins. It was a telling moment. First of all, he simply did not want to comment. The silence said everything. Under pressure for further comment he muttered token tributes. Earlier it had emerged that Poole, the second in command, had been one of only two senior managers to decline a bonus in 2012, citing redundancies at Rehab as the reason. The other top employee with a semblance of ethical humanity was human resources director Shona Boyne. The conscience of Rehab was barely breathing at the upper echelons of the charity. The culture of greed has taken over. Charity hardly seems to enter the equation.

When Poole was pressed on whether he agreed with Kerins that her remuneration came from the commercial arm, he distanced himself even further from his former boss. He obviously disagreed, insisting that this was "her interpretation". Perhaps Rehab has a future after all? Poole was a reminder that the vast majority of the thousands of staff working hard for Rehab are committed to the charity.

Mysteries remain, but they are being solved by the day. Under questioning, chairman Brian Kerr admitted that the board had received a serious complaint about Angela Kerins. It is currently being investigated by the directors. He refused to elaborate – again conveniently citing lawyers – but few secrets in the possession of so many people will remain in the closet for long.

The directors, now totally out of their depth, have employed consultant Eddie Molloy to identify the corporate governance flaws. Unfortunately the horses have bolted. Molloy is likely to ask all of the board members to step down within a short period of time. Theirs has been a disastrous tenure. He will want to hear the views of staff and customers, especially the content of the complaint against Ms Kerins.

Rehab is a model of how a company/charity or semi-state body should not be run. It had a hopelessly weak board that was self- perpetuating. For 30 years it has been run by overbearing chief executives, whose domination of the directors appears to have been absolute. A classic model of how not to do it.

Contrary to what was claimed by Flannery last week, the PAC is not on a witch hunt. It merely wishes to probe whether taxpayers' money is being spent wisely. Judging by last week's hearing, the hapless directors are unfortunately not the right people to answer the question. The only witnesses who fill the bill are on a collision course with the committee. We look forward to Angela's return to full health and to Frank's U-turn.

Shane Ross is the Independent TD for Dublin South

Sunday Independent

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