Friday 20 September 2019

Ex-Rehab chief Kerins will sue over 'unlawful treatment' by Public Accounts Committee

Angela Kerins. Picture: Collins
Angela Kerins. Picture: Collins
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins is to press ahead with a claim for damages over her treatment by a Dáil committee.

The move comes after a significant ruling by the Supreme Court in May that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) acted unlawfully in its treatment of her in 2014.

It paved the way for Ms Kerins to return to the High Court to pursue a damages claim. However, it was unclear at the time whether she would do so.

Despite finding in her favour, the Supreme Court ruling also cautioned Ms Kerins might not necessarily be entitled to damages. It said a range of issues would need to be considered, including the need to secure freedom of speech in the Oireachtas.

But the Irish Independent has learned Ms Kerins now intends to seek damages.

According to sources, her intentions were signalled in a letter from her legal representatives to Oireachtas authorities in July. The proceedings are expected to move forward once a technical issue over the precise identity of the defendants is cleared up.

These initially included members of the PAC and the Clerk of the Dáil, but the Dáil itself was substituted in their place at a late stage in the Supreme Court proceedings.

Ms Kerins declined to comment when contacted by the Irish Independent.

Should her claim for damages be successful, the cost to taxpayers from the debacle could increase significantly.

The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission revealed earlier this year some €485,000 had been spent defending cases taken by Ms Kerins and businessman Denis O'Brien.

The State also has to pay Ms Kerins's legal costs from proceedings heard to date, which are likely to amount to hundreds of thousands of euro.

Houses of the Oireachtas Commission secretary general Peter Finnegan said in July it was not possible to quantify what the ultimate liability of the Oireachtas would be.

Ms Kerins was invited to the PAC to discuss the operation by Rehab of three schemes funded by the State. But she was also questioned about salaries, her company car and commercial matters.

In her action, she alleged "bullying, harassment and persecution", led by members of the PAC, forced her to attempt suicide.

She also claimed she lost her job and had her constitutional rights breached.

Ms Kerins lost her case in the High Court, which found utterances in parliament were constitutionally protected.

However, the Supreme Court found it was possible for courts to intervene where "there has been a significant and unremedied unlawful action" by a committee.

It found the PAC acted unlawfully as it conducted a public hearing in a manner significantly outside of its terms of reference and departed significantly from the terms of the invitation issued to Ms Kerins.

A working group is now examining whether new rules should be put in place regarding the conduct of inquiries by Oireachtas committees.

Irish Independent

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