Thursday 28 May 2015

Rehab's delay tactics may necessitate radical action

The PAC has never met anyone to match Angela Kerins and her charity gang for sheer neck

Shane Ross

Published 16/03/2014 | 02:30

Rehab Chief Executive Angela Kerins & Dr John McGuire, Director Rehab Group arrive before addressing the Public Accounts Committee on issues of expenditure at the organisation on Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Rehab Chief Executive Angela Kerins & Dr John McGuire, Director Rehab Group arrive before addressing the Public Accounts Committee on issues of expenditure at the organisation on Kildare Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

How are we at the PAC going to deal with the reluctant Rehab? The PAC has held many institutions to account in recent years. We have questioned quango queens, inscrutable mandarins, secretive central bankers and greedy semi-state bosses. For sheer neck, no one has come within a whisker of Angela Kerins and her charity gang.

On February 27 Angela, bold as brass, led her squad into Leinster House. Rehab was one of the biggest teams ever to arrive at the PAC. There were nine people in all. Angela was flanked by her cohort of well-paid fellow executives, John McGuire, Laura Keane and Marie Kelly.

Behind her sat Cliodhna O'Neill, Rehab's director of public affairs, David Muldoon, head of accreditation and standards, and Sonya Felton, head of public affairs .

Seated in the public gallery were Rehab's top-dollar lawyer Anne Bateman and long-time consultant to Rehab Michael Parker.

We had sought none of these people's presence, except Angela's. We had asked for others, none of

whom turned up. The Rehab Remuneration Committee and former chief executive Frank Flannery were among the missing invitees.

Rehab had given the PAC the two fingers by picking and flaunting its own witnesses. It had ruffled plenty of PAC feathers when its lawyer had rung the Leinster House legal team the night before the hearing to try to agree the agenda.

On the day of the hearing it was two fingers to the PAC all the way. Angela chose the questions she would answer. She refused to respond adequately to the hard ones, particularly about her own salary, her bonuses and Flannery's special arrangements with Rehab.

Her last-gasp refuge from tough questions was to plead ignorance, but – helpfully – to promise to respond later in writing. It was part of the Rehab exit strategy: brazen out the day of questioning. Vamoose for freedom, bruised but still in situ. Supply the rhubarb requested afterwards.

Last Wednesday the rhubarb arrived. It was more of the two fingers treatment to us at the PAC. The key questions remained unanswered. The easy ones were padded out.

No significant extra information was sent about Angela Kerins' €240,000 salary. We in the PAC remain in the dark about how it had reached that astronomical level. We were not enlightened about her chunky bonuses in the past. It remains a puzzle whether her salary was reduced this year after the brouhaha broke out.

Little new was offered about former chief executive Frank Flannery. Details of his pension and other activities were withheld. Last week fresh questions about his lobbying activity surfaced.

We were thrown one bone. The top Rehab salaries were published in band form, but no names were given and no identifying job descriptions accompanied the bands. It was like pulling teeth. Yet the figures themselves were disturbing. Twelve of the top brass are paid over €100,000 a year, five more than €150,000. Less than two years ago bonuses were dished out to most, but not all, of Rehab's executive team. At a time of deepest recession, when pay cuts were the norm elsewhere, the champions of charity were cleaning up. Average Irish charity bosses earn around €60,000.

Rehab's strategy was an exercise in defiance. It has erected no-go areas. It defied the Taoiseach. It defied the PAC. It defied the taxpayer and it defied the fundraisers. Do Angela and her colleagues not realise that the public is rightly incensed? That the future of charitable donations is being undermined? That their clients will suffer? Do they care?

The Rehab team hardly provided the soft, friendly faces associated with a charity on that day. They were hard as nails. In the past I have asked questions of Bank of Ireland's Richie Boucher and of AIB's David Duffy in Dail committees. The two bankers were more forthcoming than the charity executives. Angela's hide is thicker than Richie's. Her neck is harder than Duffy's.

We will now have to dismantle Rehab's no-go areas. The exercise will not be without its problems. The Rehab story has taken several surprise turns already. It could easily end in the courts. Last week, just hours before we considered the Rehab smokescreen that postured as a reply, PAC received a letter from Wicklow developer John Kelly containing serious allegations against past and present Rehab associates. We immediately handed it over to the gardai on legal advice. Indeed, we were told that we could be committing a criminal offence if we failed to do so.

Such allegations will be looked at elsewhere. The PAC investigation into Rehab will go on. The charity's strategy of releasing the minimal information will not work. The media is crawling all over the story. Members of the PAC are receiving anonymous letters from ex-Rehab staff and customers on a daily basis. Transparency is essential to restore confidence, so it is in the interests of Rehab to throw open its accounts to the world before it is holed underwater.

Our task is to determine how public money is being spent, not to pursue individuals. We have a duty to ensure that Rehab's fundraisers' efforts are properly respected. Angela's gang is not being helpful. They are deliberately frustrating our effort. That is why we have asked Angela, the Remuneration Committee, the finance director and Frank Flannery to come back on April 10. This time we will pick their team.

If the strategy of "delay and frustrate" continues more radical action may be needed. Politicians are already muttering about reducing public funding by withholding contracts with Rehab. Compellability of witnesses may not be enough. There could be a public interest in despatching the State's accountant, the Comptroller and Auditor General, into Rehab's Roslyn Park headquarters in Dublin 4 to examine the books over the last decade and report back to the PAC.

Shane Ross is the Independent TD for Dublin South

Sunday Independent

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