Thursday 12 December 2019

Ex-Rehab chief Kerins claims PAC is 'biased' against her

Ex Rehab boss Angela Kerins
Ex Rehab boss Angela Kerins

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

FORMER Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins has claimed the Dail's spending watchdog is acting outside its powers by seeking to have her compelled to appear before it.

In a strongly worded letter, lawyers acting for Ms Kerins also claimed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is "compromised" and "biased" against her.

Details of the letter emerged after the committee heard yesterday that Ms Kerins was seeking to make a submission to another Dail committee, which will ultimately decide whether she can be compelled to give evidence to the PAC.

However, PAC chairman John McGuinness said it was not open to Ms Kerins to make such a submission.

The former charity boss stepped down last month following controversy over her €234,000 salary and other issues at the group.

She declined to appear at a subsequent hearing of the PAC, citing illness.

The PAC is now seeking to have Ms Kerins compelled to attend a hearing.

But it must first get approval from another committee, the Dail Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP), which effectively sets Dail rules.

Mr McGuinness said Ms Kerins could not have any say in the deliberations of the CPP.

He indicated she has been told that the decision-making process involves TDs only and that she cannot have any input.

In a letter, Eames Solicitors, acting on behalf of Ms Kerins, accused the PAC of being "compromised in its ability to continue to deal with this inquiry by reason of their apparent bias and inappropriate behaviour of individual members of the committee".

The letter went on to say that it appeared the PAC was "fully aware of its lack of jurisdiction but proposes to press ahead regardless of the fact it does so unlawfully."

The PAC can investigate bodies which are audited by the Comptroller & Auditor General. However, it has, on occasion, requested appearances by state-funded entities not audited by the C&AG.

Rehab, which receives over €80m a year in State money, is one such group and has been the subject of two hearings in recent months.

Ms Kerins' solicitors went on to say they had not been furnished with a copy of the PAC's request to the CPP.

This failure was "contrary to the most basic requirements of fair procedures and constitutional justice," they said.

Mr McGuinness told fellow committee members they may have to wait until the summer recess before a decision on the compellability request is made by the CPP, which is chaired by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett.

The PAC is also seeking to compel another former Rehab chief executive, Frank Flannery, to appear, after he refused to do so.

Mr Flannery said that while he was willing to attend the PAC, the agenda the committee wished to pursue was outside its remit.

As a result he had no alternative but to decline.

Committee members have indicated they wish to quiz Mr Flannery, a former Fine Gael strategist, about his pension and his involvement in paid lobbying on behalf of Rehab, among other matters.

Irish Independent

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