Wednesday 19 December 2018

'Huge consequences' if Kerins wins

Angela Kerins said she tried to taker her own life. Photo: Collins Courts
Angela Kerins said she tried to taker her own life. Photo: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

The State warned of "huge consequences" if the Supreme Court upholds claims by former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins that the courts can intervene concerning her treatment during Oireachtas committee hearings.

It argues that things are said in the Oireachtas that should not be said, or people would prefer were not said, but that is "the nature of parliamentary privilege".

Paul Gallagher SC said: "Democracy is not entirely smooth and pleasing in all its respects.

"Everything is a compromise and the compromise the people put in place is [Article] 15.13."

Asked by Mr Justice John MacMenamin whether a "wrong" had been done to Ms Kerins by the PAC, counsel agreed the High Court found that damage was done.

The Public Accounts Committee and State are relying on the absolute privilege Article 15.13 affords to "utterances" of members of the Oireachtas, he said. Article 15.13 states members of each House of the Oireachtas "shall not, in respect of any utterance in either House, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself".

Mr Gallagher said those "unambiguous" words should be applied by the court to the complaints by Ms Kerins.

A core part of the State case is that Ms Kerins attended voluntarily before the PAC and the committee was not making findings of fact, he said.

Mr Justice William McKechnie said it was "fanciful" to suggest Ms Kerins could have left the hearing at any time, while Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne said her absence from the second PAC hearing did not "protect her", given what happened there.

The seven-judge court is hearing Ms Kerins's appeal over the High Court's January 2017 rejection of her claim for damages over alleged breach of personal rights at two PAC hearings concerning Rehab, where questions were asked about her €240,000 salary and other matters.

Her experience was so traumatic she tried to take her own life, she said.

The PAC denies responsibility for her difficulties and maintains it was entitled to scrutinise how public funds are spent when some €83m public monies were paid annually to Rehab companies.

The appeal raises constitutional issues, including whether the courts have any role in protecting personal rights of witnesses before the PAC.

Irish Independent

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