Sunday 25 February 2018

PAC chief McGuinness could meet Frank Flannery privately

McGuinness open to sit-down but a public appearance still required

Frank Flannery at Leinster House in 2012. Picture: Tom Burke
Frank Flannery at Leinster House in 2012. Picture: Tom Burke

RONALD QUINLAN Special Correspondent

THE chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), John McGuinness, last night said he was willing to meet with former Rehab CEO Frank Flannery privately to discuss concerns he has about giving evidence to the committee.

With just four days to go before the members of the PAC apply to the Dail's Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP) to compel Mr Flannery and his successor as Rehab CEO, Angela Kerins, to appear before them as witnesses, Mr McGuinness has insisted he remains open to discussions.

The PAC chairman was responding to suggestions from informed sources that Mr Flannery is willing to meet with him or any member of the PAC privately to assist them in as much as it is possible for him to do so, with their inquiries into Rehab.

"As chairman of the PAC, and I can also say this for the clerk of the PAC, we've always made ourselves available to people who would be potential witnesses to explain the rules of the game and the rules of the exchange in the hearings, so that they're prepared. That's done with witnesses when they request information or guidelines on a hearing," Mr McGuinness told the Sunday Independent.

The PAC chairman made it clear, however, that were such a private meeting to take place, it wouldn't remove the requirement for Mr Flannery to appear before the committee in a subsequent public hearing.

He added: "We will hear a witness in any way that we can so that when they come before the committee they're prepared for everything that might be asked of them. Whether we meet with Frank Flannery privately or not, it will not take away from the fact that the public hearing is necessary because that's how we do our business. So it's not that one meeting substitutes for another. We won't do that. There's never an 'either or', we conduct all our business in public, and we will conduct our business with him in public. There's no exception to that."

Mr McGuinness said that the PAC would meet this coming Thursday to finalise its application to the CPP to compel Mr Flannery and Ms Kerins to appear before them.

"We meet next Thursday to go for compellability. We've already made the decision that if we don't hear from either one of them [Frank Flannery and Angela Kerins], that we will submit an application to the CPP (Committee on Procedure and Privileges) for compellability. The aim of compellability was that the CPP would have protocols in place arising from the 2013 legislation. They're in place now and they've been legally tested. That piece of work is almost completed, so they'll be ready to make a decision once they receive our application," he said.

While Ms Kerins appeared before the PAC last February, she was unable to attend at the committee three weeks ago due to ill health.

Mr Flannery, for his part, explained his reluctance to appear at a public hearing of the PAC in an interview with the Sunday Independent two weeks ago, saying that as a private citizen with no control over the spending of public money, he had a right to know what the committee's agenda was before he agreed to co-operate with it.

Responding to the criticisms levelled against him by certain members of the PAC over his refusal to appear before them, he added: "We can not and should not be blackguarded, bullied or demeaned.

"I am not being unreasonable or recalcitrant. I am not trying to bully anybody. I am just trying to stand up for my decision as a citizen of the Irish Republic and my rights under our Constitution."

Sunday Independent

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