Thursday 24 January 2019

Kerins says Dail is 'lawless place' after court ruling

Former Rehab boss wants case overturned by Supreme Court

Claims: Angela Kerins Picture: Collins
Claims: Angela Kerins Picture: Collins
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins has claimed a "lawless place" has been created in Leinster House where politicians are "empowered to do wrong without restraint" in the appeal of her case against the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Ms Kerins last week lodged appeal papers with the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court seeking to overturn a decision by a specially convened three-judge Divisional Court.

The Division Court found the former charity boss had her reputation personally damaged by comments made at a PAC hearing, but said it could not find against the committee as it was covered by privilege under the Constitution. Ms Kerins has argued she is entitled to protect her good name under the Constitution and the courts have an obligation to provide a legal avenue for her to do so if her reputation has been damaged by an Oireachtas Committee.

The High Court heard she tried to take her own life after a PAC hearing where she was questioned on her salary and pension entitlements during a seven-hour committee meeting.

In her application for leave of appeal, which was lodged with the Court Services last Thursday, Ms Kerins's legal team argued that the Divisional Court made a number of errors in its judgment last January. In the application, which has been seen by the Sunday Independent, it is argued the court "erred in law" by finding that privileges and immunities afforded to the Dail and Seanad also applied to Oireachtas committees.

The document states that this is the first case in which Article 15.13 of the Constitution was applied to "render immune from scrutiny utterances" in a committee hearing.

Lawyers for Ms Kerins argue the Divisional Court's findings are contrary to precedents set by the so-called Abbeylara Supreme Court judgment which prohibits Oireachtas Committees from making findings of fact or expressions of opinion adverse to the good name or reputation of citizens.

The Supreme Court found an Oireachtas committee was acting outside its remit by investigating the shooting dead of John Carthy in Abbeylara in 2000. It is also claimed a precedent established in a landmark case taken against the PAC by Charles Haughey's brother Paraic 'Jock' Haughey, has been overturned by the Divisional Court's ruling against Ms Kerins. The application says the court "failed to reflect the necessary balance between the individual's rights and the powers of the institution of State".

The application added: "The Divisional Court erred in failing to recognise that when considering the exercise of a power within the sphere of competence of the House of the Oireachtas (which did not occur in this instance), the separation of powers doctrine under the Constitution does not recognise the existence of a lawless place in which people are empowered to do wrong without restraint."

The application also argued Ms Kerins would be provided more legal protection if she had been compelled before the committee rather than attend, as she had, voluntarily. Her lawyers have asked that the case bypass the Court of Appeal and be heard in the Supreme Court as it is a constitutional matter of public importance.

Health Minister Simon Harris and Transport Minister Shane Ross, along with Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald have been named as respondents in the case, as have all the other former members of the PAC who were involved in Ms Kerins's committee appearance.

Sunday Independent

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