MEP staff pension case told of 'allegations of epic fraud'
A HIGH Court judge is to consider information from the European Parliament in a dispute over whether two former MEPs allegedly failed to submit allowance claims for their secretaries, leaving them without pensions.
The case, in which retired assistants Kathleen Egan and Margaret Hackett have allegedly been left with state pensions of around €800 per month, has been described by one European Court judge as "an allegation of epic fraud, the High Court heard yesterday.
Ms Egan and Ms Hackett say they worked for former Fianna Fail MEPs James Fitzsimons and Liam Hyland, who retired in 2004.
Ms Egan (61), of Athboy, Co Meath, and Ms Hackett (66), of Borris-in-Ossory, Co Laois, claim they were employed as Dail secretaries and MEP assistants to Mr Fitzsimons and Mr Hyland respectively.
They are suing the former MEPs for breach of contract, fraud and misfeasance in public office, alleging the failure to claim allowances for them has left them without pensions.
It is also alleged that the MEPs, while employing the two women, submitted allowance claims for two other persons. The former politicians deny the claims and are seeking court orders striking out their actions for alleged abuse of process.
It is claimed both women are bound by a July 2004 settlement of industrial relations proceedings which, it is alleged, covers the claims being advanced now. The women deny that claim.
Last May, High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said he had received information from the parliament concerning the claims that the former MEPs submitted assistant allowance claims for others.
This had raised questions as to whether the information should be provided to counsel or if he (the judge) should just read the material himself, he said.
He adjourned the matter until yesterday when, following submissions from both sides, he said he would now read the information and then hear further submissions before considering the application by the defendants to strike out the matter.
Eileen Barrington SC, for the women, said a judge of the European Court had already described the matter as "an allegation of epic fraud".
Affidavits supplied by the defendants were striking in how little they said about the matter, and even though the European Parliament had said this was private information, it contained the identities of the persons who received the pensions, she said.
This was a case in which her clients had been left with state pensions of around €200 per week.
Anthony Collins, for the defendants, said his side had no objection to the court reading the information provided.
Mr Justice Kearns said he would put the matter back for a month so that a further defence can be filed, and he would look at the documents from the parliament when the case resumes next month.