Monday 19 March 2018

PAC members made 'devastating' and 'hurtful' statements about former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins, High Court hears

Angela Kerins, the former CEO of Rehab, arriving at the High Court. Pic: Collins Courts
Angela Kerins, the former CEO of Rehab, arriving at the High Court. Pic: Collins Courts

Members of the Dail Public Accounts Committee made “devastating”, “hurtful” and “grievously damaging” statements about former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins which lead to her losing her job and reputation, the High Court has been told.

Those “statements of fact, expressions of opinion and assertions of wrongdoing” were immediately released in the public domain and are “wholly irretrievable”, her counsel John Rogers said.

It was Ms Kerins’ case the PAC had no jurisdiction to make such statements and acted in breach of Ms Kerins’ constitutional rights, including to her good name and to privacy. 

Members of the PAC were not entitled to ask Ms Kerins about her salary or to ask other Rehab witnesses whether there had been complaints about her, he argued.

Because of the manner in which the hearings were conducted, there was also no provision under which Ms Kerins could have “got in there” in an effort to retrieve the situation, Mr Rogers said.

Counsel was continuing closing arguments before a three judge High Court in a hearing to decide whether the PAC had jurisdiction to conduct two hearings concerning public payments to Rehab.

Ms Kerins claims the hearings on February 27th and April 10th 2014 amounted to an unlawful “witchhunt” against her outside the PAC’s jurisdiction. She claims she was bullied and harassed and was so overwhelmed after the February 27th hearing she attempted to take her life on March 14th.

As a result, she was unable to attend the April 10th hearing, it is claimed. She wants damages on grounds including alleged personal injury, loss of reputation and loss of career.

The PAC argues it had jurisdiction to conduct the hearings as it did and is entitled to scrutinise how public funds are spent in a context including that some €80m public monies are paid annually to Rehab companies.

It has also argued Ms Kerins appeared voluntarily before the Committee on February 27th 2014, raised many of the issues she now complains about, and told it she was glad to provide information about the services provided by Rehab.

Today, Mr Rogers argued the constitutional protection against suit given to “utterances” in the Houses of the Oireachtas did not apply to Dail Committees.

He also submitted that the Supreme Court decision halting an Oireachtas inquiry into the fatal shooting of John Carthy during a siege at Abbeylara is applicable to this case.

He rejected arguments by the State and PAC that the Supreme Court’s findings concerning the protections to be afforded to Garda witnesses appearing before the Abbeylara inquiry did not apply to someone appearing before the PAC. Ms Kerins had a right to have her good name protected from attack and the State was required to vindicate that right, he said.

There was clear evidence of interference with her constitutional rights and any provision purporting to oust that right had to be read constitutionally, he submitted.

The hearing continues.

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