Friday 15 November 2019

Members of PAC could face grilling by ex-Rehab boss Angela Kerins

Angela Kerins: claims the Public Accounts Committee acted outside its remit and showed bias towards her
Angela Kerins: claims the Public Accounts Committee acted outside its remit and showed bias towards her

Tim Healy

Former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins may apply to cross-examine members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in her forthcoming action over its conduct of public hearings into the handling of State payments to the charity, the Court of Appeal has heard.

The court yesterday reserved judgment on the PAC's appeal against various High Court orders directing it to give certain documents to Ms Kerins for her action.

Ms Kerins wants orders and damages on foot of claims the PAC conducted itself unlawfully, showed bias towards her, acted outside its remit, and was guilty of misfeasance (improper misuse of power) in public office. She claims its action caused her distress and injured her health.

The PAC denies her claims and maintains it was entitled to question her in circumstances where 81pc of the charity's income in Ireland was provided by the State.

The committee has a "vital role" in overseeing public expenditure and cannot be sued for damages over matters said under privilege, Paul Gallagher SC, for the PAC, said in presenting its appeal. The appeal heard Ms Kerins appeared for seven hours before the PAC on February 27, 2014. Her lawyers said she could not attend a resumed hearing on April 10, 2014, due to ill health.

She later sued for various orders including restraining the PAC from pursuing further examination of Rehab's finances insofar as they relate to her former employment.

Mr Gallagher said Ms Kerins's case raises objective legal issues which can be determined by the transcripts of the PAC public hearings and did not require the other documents sought by her in pursuit of a "fishing exercise".

The issues for determination include whether the PAC had jurisdiction to conduct the hearings in the manner it did.

The courts may stop an inquiry by a Dáil committee, or find it is unfair, but cannot award damages. In relation to her claims of bias, Mr Gallagher said PAC chairman John McGuinness had said he had no recollection of saying to Ms Kerins, before she appeared in front of the PAC, that some members of the committee did not like her.

Opposing the appeal, John Rogers, SC, for Ms Kerins, said what happened during her appearance before the PAC involved an excess of its jurisdiction. Ms Kerins was "ballyragged" over seven hours and, although not present before the PAC on April 10, 2014, some of its members made assertions about her character and sought to get another witness to confirm she was not an appropriate person to be Rehab CEO, he argued. She wanted orders expunging the record of that and preventing the PAC "doing any further damage" to her.

Irish Independent

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