Friday 15 November 2019

Judge to consider European Parliament information after MEP secretaries sue over pensions

Tim Healy

A HIGH Court judge is to consider information from the European Parliament in a dispute over whether two former MEPs allegedly failed to submit allowance claims for their secretaries - leaving them without pensions.

The case in which retired assistants Kathleen Egan and Margaret Hackett have allegedly been left with Irish State pensions of around €800 per month has been described by one European court judge as "an allegation of epic fraud," the High Court heard today.

Ms Egan and Ms Hackett say they worked for former Fianna Fail MEPs James Fitzsimons and Liam Hyland, who retired in 2004. Ms Egan (61), Caucestown, Athboy, Co Meath, and Ms Hackett (66), Borris-in-Ossory, Co Laois, claim they were employed as Dail secretaries and MEP assistants to Mr Fitzsimons and Mr Hyland respectively.

They are now suing the former MEPs for breach of contract, fraud and misfeasance in public office alleging the failure to claim allowances for them has left them without pensions.

It is also alleged that the MEPs, while employing the two women, submitted allowance claims for two other persons.

The former MEPs deny the claims and are seeking court orders striking out their actions for alleged abuse of process. It is claimed both women are bound by a July 2004 settlement of industrial relations proceedings which, it is alleged, covers the claims being advanced now. The women deny that claim.

Last May, president of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said he had received information from the parliament concerning the claims that the former MEPs submitted assistant allowance claims for others.

This had raised questions as to whether the information should be provided to counsel or if he (judge) should just read the material himself, he said.

He adjourned the matter until today when, following submissions from both sides, he said he would now read the information and then hear further submissions before considering the application by the defendants to strike out the matter.

Eileen Barrington SC, for the women, said a judge of the European Court had already described the matter as "an allegation of epic fraud."

Affidavits supplied by the defendants were striking in how little they said about the matter and even though the European parliament had said this was private information, it contained the identities of the persons who received the pensions, she said.

This was a case in which her clients had been left with State pensions of around €200 per week, she said.

Anthony Collins SC, for the defendants, said his side had no objection to the court reading the information which had been provided.

Mr Justice Kearns said he would put the matter back for a month so that a further defence can be filed and he would look at the documents from the parliament when the case resumes next month.

In their action, the women claim they discovered, following the MEPs' retirement, they would not get pensions because no allowance claims were submitted for them.

The MEPs were entitled to submit claims under the European "Parliamentary Assistance Allowance"(PAA).

According to Ms Egan, the PAA has always been "generous", rising from IR£8,000 (€10,160) per month in 1995 to about €12,756 per month in 2004.

She alleges she received no remuneration from Mr Fitzsimons while working between 1984 and 1987 as his assistant, was paid directly by him up to 2001 in alleged breach of the relevant rules and, from January 2001 to June 2004, was paid by the European Parliament via accountants.

Ms Hackett claims she worked as MEP assistant for Mr Hyland between 1994 and 2004, apart from a "temporary cessation" between June 1997 and June 1998 due to an employment dispute.

She claims she was not paid at all between July 1994 and June 1997 for the MEP assistant work, was paid directly by Mr Hyland for that work between July 1998 and January 2001 in alleged breach of the relevant rules and, from January 2001, was paid by the European Parliament via accountants.

Solicitors for the women had sought information from the European parliament related to their claims that Mr Fitzsimons and Mr Hyland had applied for secretarial allowances for two other persons.

It was alleged Mr Fitzsimons had applied between July 1984 and December 2000, and Mr Hyland between July 1994 and December 2000, setting out the names of two other persons whom they named as their MEP assistants.

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