Friday 19 January 2018

Spending watchdog in legal move to question former Rehab bosses

Frank Flannery, former CEO of the Rehab group
Frank Flannery, former CEO of the Rehab group
Former Rehab boss Angela Kerins. Photo: Collins
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

THE Dail's spending watchdog has said it is well within its legal remit to force former Rehab chiefs Frank Flannery and Angela Kerins to appear before it.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over the weekend submitted its legally drafted application seeking the additional powers to compel them and other senior public officials to appear.

The committee also wants access to all documents relating to the oversight of the use of funds by the Rehab Group, particularly those relating to how executive remuneration was funded.

The hard-hitting application, seen by the Irish Independent, were sent by the PAC to the Dail's oversight Committee on Procedure and Privilege (CPP), demanding the right to finish their investigation into the €95.5m given to Rehab every year by the taxpayer.

The PAC has fought to combat allegations that it is acting beyond its remit by seeking to compel Ms Kerins and Mr Flannery, both of whom have resigned on foot of the controversy.

But the committee's chairman John McGuinness has denied this, saying they are just two of a host of people PAC want to hear from as part of their investigation into Rehab.

Other people the committee are seeking to compel to appear are HSE director general Tony O'Brien, Solas CEO Paul O'Toole, Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell as well as the secretaries general of the departments of education, social protection and the environment.

The PAC also wants to compel the current senior executive team of Rehab, including chairman Brian Kerr and Keith Poole, Rehab finance director.

It also wishes to compel Rehab's education director Marie Kelly, Laura Keane, director of health, and John McGuire director of Rehab lotteries.

In its application, the committee is arguing that only witnesses who are compelled to appear benefit from the legal protections and immunities set out.

On foot of legal advice, the PAC is seeking to compel various witnesses not simply so that we can benefit from their evidence, but also to legally protect these witnesses.

"Only compelled witnesses benefit from the same immunities as a witness in court which affords them the protection that the evidence they give cannot be used against them in other proceedings," the document states.

The document refers to how previously at the PAC, the HSE "mistakenly believed" that it was legally protected when it tried to give details of salary levels of senior Rehab bosses.

The PAC has also submitted an application to compel three retired officials over their role in the controversial €4.4m SIPTU/HSE 'slush fund'.

That application says the committee wishes to hear from former SIPTU national secretary Matt Merrigan, former general manager of the controversial Skill Programme Alan Smyth and another union official, Jack Kelly.

The committee has previously invited the witnesses to attend a hearing but they have refused.

Based on legal advice, the PAC has said because the controversy has been the subject of a special report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, the committee is "entirely within its remit" to investigate the operation of the fund, which resulted in a net cost to the taxpayer of more than €3.5m.

Irish Independent

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