Saturday 24 February 2018

PAC rejects Angela Kerins’ allegations of bias and vendetta 'in their entirety'

Angela Kerins Photo: Collins Courts
Angela Kerins Photo: Collins Courts

Shane Phelan Legal Affairs Editor

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has rejected allegations that untrue or misleading comments were made by its members about former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins.

Paul Gallagher SC, for the PAC, said the committee was objecting to the allegations made by Mr Kerins “in their entirety”.

Mr Gallagher was opening the committee’s defence of a legal action taken by Ms Kerins against the PAC, the State and the Attorney General.

Ms Kerins is seeking damages after suffering a collapse in health, including a suicide attempt, and losing her job, after allegedly being ill-treated by the committee.

She had claimed its members engaged in “a vendetta” against her, displayed bias and sought to destroy her reputation at two hearings in 2014.

Mr Gallagher said counsel for Ms Kerins had “made one suggestion after another” that comments made by PAC members were “untrue or misleading”.

He said this was utterly rejected by the PAC.

Mr Gallagher also said that the fact such comments were made in a Dáil committee, and enjoyed absolute privilege, meant a court could not make findings on what was said.

Counsel said Article 15.13 of the Constitution stated that members of the Oireachtas shall not, in respect of any utterance in either the Dáil or Seanad, be amenable to any court or any authority other than the House itself.

He said some of the reliefs sought by Ms Kerins were “quite extraordinary”.

Mr Gallagher told the court she was looking to have any reference to herself or her employment expunged from the record of the PAC.

“Such a relief has never been asked for before,” said Mr Gallagher.

“It is entirely novel. There is no case that we can find where this had been done.”

Mr Gallagher said free debate in the Oireachtas was protected by absolute privilege and that the PAC enjoyed the same jurisdiction.

He said this sometimes meant that there may be comment in the Dáil which impugns a person’s character or that may be uncomfortable.

However, Mr Gallagher said privilege meant people had to “put up with the aspects that are distasteful”.

He said parliament was designed so that issues of concern to TDs and their constituents could be aired, debated and discussed.

There was an international acceptance of the right to free speech in a parliament.

He said sometimes utterances in parliament can be unfair or overlook complexities and that this was unfortunate. However, it was not open to the courts to limit free speech.

High Court President, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, observed that the case being made by Mr Gallagher was that “the most monstrous things” may be said which may be untrue or damaging to a person’s reputation, but because of absolute privilege it was not a matter for the court to adjudicate on.

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