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Saturday 24 August 2019

Ceann Comhairle 'personally apologises' to Angela Kerins over PAC treatment

Angela Kerins Photo: Collins
Angela Kerins Photo: Collins Newsdesk Newsdesk

The Ceann Comhairle has "personally apologised" to former CEO of Rehab, Angela Kerins, over her treatment by members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Speaking after the Supreme Court judgment that found the Dáil PAC "acted unlawfully" in its treatment of Ms Kerins, Mr Seán Ó Fearghaíl told RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' he found the verdict "chilling" that the committee had "trampled" on Ms Kerins' rights.

The ruling last month, described as highly significant, has sparked discussion about the manner in which Oireachtas committees could conduct their business in future.

Ms Kerins sued the committee, its clerk, the clerk of the Dáil, Ireland and the Attorney General over her treatment at two PAC meetings in 2014, the first of which she attended and the second she didn’t.

Earlier this year, the court found it had the power to declare the committee acted unlawfully, if it "as a whole" acted outside its remit and breached the terms of the invitation it extended to Ms Kerins to appear.

It sought further submissions on this and on May 29 gave its final ruling on the issue.

The decision means Ms Kerins may now pursue further legal action in the High Court.

Mr Justice Clarke said the Supreme Court intended to award Ms Kerins both her costs in an earlier unsuccessful High Court action and her successful Supreme Court appeal.

Ms Kerins lost the earlier High Court case and had to pay a third of her costs under that ruling.

The costs ruling means the case could end up costing the taxpayer in the region of €1m.

But the ultimate cost to the taxpayer could be even more should Ms Kerins now seek damages.

It is by no means certain she will get damages, however.

Speaking today, Mr Ó Fearghaíl expressed his deep regret at what happened and described the judgment as a "watershed" for members of the Oireachtas.

He said an internal group of civil servants were set up to look at the ruling's implications and to look at the functionality of Oireachtas committees.

He said changes were imminent and he hopes to put proposals to the house in September to amend standing orders and change how the committees operate.

He was especially critical of duplication of inquiries.

"It was very obvious that there was excessive duplication and part of the reform package we are looking at is streamlining how the committee system functions, perhaps giving the business committee a role," Mr Ó Fearghaíl said.

"The idea of witnesses coming before two or three committees is patently ridiculous.

"We have to be able to have robust questioning, but we don’t want echo chambers, but we can’t have star chamber either, so there has to be an agreed protocol around how we will deal with witnesses, robustly questioning them on the pertinent issues, but respecting those witnesses who have come before us at the same time," he added.

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