Monday 23 October 2017

PAC unease as pursuit of Rehab duo 'gets personal'

Angela Kerins and (inset) Frank Flannery
Angela Kerins and (inset) Frank Flannery

Ronald Quinlan and John Drennan

TENSIONS within the Public Accounts Committee over its pursuit of former Rehab chiefs Angela Kerins and Frank Flannery have escalated, with several members of the Dail's spending watchdog expressing concern that they are in danger of going beyond their remit.

The PAC submitted an application to the Committee on Procedures and Privileges last Thursday seeking the power to compel Ms Kerins and Mr Flannery to appear before it.

However, the Sunday Independent understands the increasingly personalised nature of the standoff has been met with deep unease.

That disquiet is understood to have come to the fore in a two-hour meeting between the PAC and Oireachtas legal adviser Melissa English, shortly before the Dail took its Easter recess.

Having already told the PAC last January that it had "crossed the line" so much that it was now a "dot in the distance", Ms English issued a renewed warning to the members of the committee in relation to the manner in which it handles its investigations. She specifically told members that PAC could leave itself open to a potential legal action for damages from the individuals it was now pursuing.

PAC chairman John McGuinness confirmed that the warning had been given to members.

He told the Sunday Independent: "Yes, she said that in straying beyond its remit, the committee could end up [being pursued]. We have particular laws and protocols that have to be observed at all times. But we wouldn't be in this situation if Angela Kerins and Frank Flannery just came in and gave the information in relation to the public money. We're not interested in anything else."

Mr McGuinness readily admitted that there was concern among certain members of the PAC and that this had been expressed in the course of their meeting with Ms English.

He added: "They were expressing their concern that in relation to Frank Flannery's solicitor, Robert Dore, that it was getting personal because he wrote directly to me as chairman of the PAC and I read that letter. They asked if I was getting personal.

"Aine Collins was asking 'where did it all stop' and 'where was the point at which we don't go beyond'."

Labour Party PAC members Ged Nash and Derek Nolan are also understood to be concerned that the committee is in danger of going beyond its remit.

Even the PAC chairman conceded that the committee was on "a thin line" in this regard. Mr McGuinness said: "The argument that Robert Dore has made on behalf of his client, Frank Flannery, that we're gone beyond our remit. The argument the PAC makes is that we are working our remit to its limit. When you get to that point, you're on a very thin line of being inside or outside your remit."

While supportive of the PAC chairman, Fine Gael TD John Deasy cautioned that there was a limit to how far the committee could go without being given the power to compel witnesses to appear before it. Mr Deasy said: "Mr McGuinness has pushed the boundaries but so far he has been successful and correct, but there is a limit as to how far we can go.

"I think the committee is now correct to take the route of compelling individuals and public bodies as they relate to the HSE."

Clearly conscious of the PAC's limitations in this regard, Mr McGuinness called on the Government to look at increasing the powers of the committee.

He said: "There's clearly a need for the Government to look at the PAC and to look at its remit and to update the legislation to bring it into the type of examinations that are required now given the amounts of public money that people are getting when the Government outsources its services to organisations like Rehab or indeed the CRC.

"There's a need to define clearly the line of examination from the granting of public monies with the C&AG and the PAC being able to examine it without there being an issue of remit, but observing the Abbeylara judgment."

Sunday Independent

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