Friday 13 December 2019

Ministers in the dock for Rehab boss's case

TAKING ACTION: Former Rehab boss Angela Kerins. Photo: Steve Humphreys
TAKING ACTION: Former Rehab boss Angela Kerins. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Three Government ministers face being called before the High Court to give evidence as part of former Rehab charity boss Angela Kerins's landmark legal action against the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Ms Kerins launched legal proceedings against the Dail's spending watchdog after she was grilled for more than seven hours over her management of the charity's finance which was in the spotlight over its wage and pension bill at the time of the hearing.

She is claiming the PAC did not have the power to call her before a hearing and that the appearance negatively impacted on her health.

Health Minister Simon Harris, Transport Minister Shane Ross and junior finance minister Eoghan Murphy were all PAC members at the time Ms Kerins appeared.

Last week, President of the High Court Peter Kelly decided that due to the possibility of significant implications for the Oireachtas arising from the case it should be heard before a three judge divisional court of the High Court.

Such courts are only established when the outcome of cases may have an impact on the Constitution or other matters of public concern.

It was also decided that the case should be split into two modules - the first focusing on whether the PAC had the jurisdiction to call Ms Kerins before a hearing to question her on her management of Rehab.

The second element will focus on the alleged impact the case had on Ms Kerins personal wellbeing.

In the Law Library, Ms Kerins case is being called 'Abbeylara II' in reference to the Supreme Court judgment which found members of Oireachtas committees cannot make negative findings against members of the public who appear before hearings.

Ms Kerins, who was earning €240,000 a year as Rehab's chief executive, was called before the PAC at the height of the controversy surrounding the salaries of charity bosses.

She was questioned over seven hours by committee members about pay packets and pensions of senior Rehab staff.

Weeks after the PAC hearing, Ms Kerins stepped down as chief executive of the charity she ran for almost 10 years.

Her resignation followed Frank Flannery stepping down as a director of Rehab and as Fine Gael's director of election.

Mr Flannery was the disability charity's chief executive for 25 years before he stepped aside to allow Ms Kerins take over the post.

After resigning both faced further calls from the PAC to attend committee hearings to answer questions on Rehab's finances.

However, the PAC was told by the Oireachtas Committee on Procedures and Privileges it did not have the power to compel either of the former CEOs. Ms Kerins's High Court case is due to begin on July 13.

Sunday Independent

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