Tuesday 20 March 2018

Kerins: 'Harassment by PAC led to my suicide attempt'

Ex-Rehab boss claims 'vendetta' by committee convinced her to take her own life

Angela Kerins leaving the court yesterday Photo: Collins Courts
Angela Kerins leaving the court yesterday Photo: Collins Courts
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins has claimed that "bullying, harassment and persecution" led by members of the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) forced her to attempt suicide.

Ms Kerins fell unconscious after taking a large quantity of pills and some alcohol and would have died if a work colleague had not broken into her home after becoming concerned.

PAC member John McGuinness (chairman) Photo: Tom Burke
PAC member John McGuinness (chairman) Photo: Tom Burke

The dramatic events, which occurred in the aftermath of a bruising appearance by Ms Kerins at the PAC, were outlined as she began a High Court action for damages.

The 58-year-old, with an address in Blackrock, Co Dublin, said she came to the "totally irrational" decision to take her own life as she believed it was the only way to end the controversy which surrounded Rehab.

In an affidavit submitted to the court, she detailed how she prepared notes for her family to explain her actions.

"At the time I was very angry that I did not succeed," she said.

PAC member Shane Ross Photo: Tom Burke
PAC member Shane Ross Photo: Tom Burke

Read more: Angela Kerins 'took pills and alcohol in suicide bid' following PAC appearance - High Court

In a landmark case, Ms Kerins claims that she lost her job, having been chief executive of the charity and commercial group for eight years, and had her constitutional rights breached as a result of the conduct of the committee.

She directly linked the suicide attempt to the actions of PAC members, stating: "The level of bullying, harassment and persecution was so intense that this happened. And it was led by a group of politicians."

A major plank of her case is an allegation that committee members knowingly acted outside their remit, seeking commercial information and details of private earnings, rather than inquiring solely into Rehab services paid for by the HSE and Solas. Ms Kerins claims they pursued "a vendetta" against her.

"One of the PAC boasted that my resigning was one of their greatest achievements," she said.

A three-judge High Court, led by its president, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, is to decide whether Ms Kerins is entitled to damages and whether the committee operated outside its legal remit.

The outcome of the case is set to have major implications for the way Oireachtas committees conduct their business.

Opening the case, John Rogers SC, for Ms Kerins, detailed how on March 14, 2014, just over two weeks after the appearance at the PAC, Ms Kerins "self-harmed".

"She became unconscious in her own home and had to be rescued for her life," said Mr Rogers.

The PAC was investigating the activities of charities at the time, following the Central Remedial Clinic scandal, and much of the hearing focussed on Ms Kerins' €240,000 salary and governance issues at Rehab.

In her affidavit, Mr Kerins said that such was her state of distress after the seven-hour hearing on February 27, 2014 and "persistent hounding by politicians and subsequent media, with hundreds of articles published" that she suffered "a number of physical collapses".

She attended a doctor in her native Waterford on March 2, was "barely able to get out of the car" and felt unsteady on her feet.

The doctor thought she was suffering an acute stress reaction and that this needed to be investigated in hospital.

She arranged for Ms Kerins to be admitted to the Whitfield Clinic in Waterford under the care of a consultant gastroenterologist, who in turn insisted that she be seen by a psychiatrist.

Ms Kerins stayed at the clinic until March 6, when she was transferred to the Beacon Clinic in Dublin, where she remained until March 11.

"While I was in hospital, I struggled to cope with what was happening and to see a way through for the Rehab Group," she said.

Her appearance before the committee had not taken the sting out of media coverage of Rehab, which had been ongoing for months.

"Our whole work was being rendered worthless by politicians and certain sections of the media," she said. "I thought of resigning at the time but very quickly came to the conclusion that this would not be enough.

"I became irrationally convinced that the solution was for me to sacrifice myself. I had a bizarre belief that if I was off the planet that the Rehab Group and everyone else close to me would be saved.

"My death would resolve the controversy which the Rehab Group found itself in and would also protect my family from further fall-out from the PAC.

"While at the Beacon Hospital, this action was occupying my thoughts.

"My conviction that the destruction of my life would stop the abuse for everyone grew. I need to say that I really felt forced into this decision. I was really upset that it had to be done but I had been persecuted into thinking that this was the sacrifice needed to stop the destruction of all I held dear."

Ms Kerins went on to describe how she attempted to take her own life on the evening of March 14, three days after her discharge from the Beacon Hospital.

Read more: Medical evidence to be central in Kerins's legal case against Dáil committee

"I sadly wrote notes to my family, explaining the need to do this, before consuming a large quantity of pills and some alcohol," she said.

"I did not succeed in my suicide attempt because a colleague from the Rehab Group grew concerned following a telephone call to me. She raised the alarm and sought assistance to break into my house and called an ambulance."

Ms Kerins was rushed unconscious to St Vincent's Hospital and remained there until the following day.

In her affidavit, she said that what she had attempted to do was "not a way out" or "an act of revenge or an impetuous act".

"The only way I can explain it is that I had always seen my role as being to find solution for problems, specifically the Rehab Group's problems.

"Due to my totally irrational way of thinking at the time, sacrificing my life became my solution for the problems of the Rehab Group."

Ms Kerins sat in the court with her husband Seán as details from the affidavit were read into the court record by Mr Rogers.

HER counsel described Ms Kerins as "a most courageous woman" and said her submission to the court had to be one of the most difficult a person could make.

He said that matters dated back to January 2014, when his client was "confronted" with a growing amount of negative material.

He pointed to a 'Sunday Independent' article by Shane Ross, then a member of the PAC, from January 12.

This article dealt with an interview Ms Kerins gave to 'Morning Ireland' presenter Gavin Jennings, in which she was asked about her salary.

Mr Ross said in the piece that Ms Kerins's "hubris was breathtaking", referring to her responses to questions about her remuneration.

Mr Rogers told the court that this article "set the tone" for what was to follow.

Ms Kerins was asked to attend the PAC in a letter on January 22 and there was further correspondence on February 18, outlining the format of the hearing.

Mr Rogers said the tone of the meeting was critical.

"I think I can safely say that members of the committee used, in some instances, upbraiding language," he said. "The meeting on occasion became judgmental. Ms Kerins was examined on private matters. She was re-examined and cross-examined about her pension and bonuses."

In Ms Kerins' affidavit, she described it as a "tsunami of abuse" and "a McCarthy-like witch hunt".

She said committee members had "a horrific agenda in the pursuit of headlines".

Ms Kerins said she had not been naïve and had sought and received assurances in advance of the hearing that questioning would be limited to the publicly funded element of the charity and commercial group's operations.

She had pointed out in advance that her salary was not drawn from any public funding.

MS Kerins said she was "helpless in the face of what happened next". PAC members asked the same questions again and again, even though other members had asked them already.

She was "shocked" that the PAC chairman John McGuinness had not intervened on her behalf and said she felt that she had been "entrapped" by him.

After the hearing, she had difficulty leaving the house and felt that her name "had become like poison".

A trip to the hairdressers was enough to produce sensational headlines.

People had begun hanging around outside her house at night and she had a real fear of a break-in.

She was, said Ms Kerins, the subject of an anonymous death threat and her "whole world had been turned upside down".

The hearing continues today and is expected to last for over a week.

The Samaritans can be contacted by phone at 116 123. This number is free to call.

Irish Independent

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