Thursday 18 July 2019

Eamon Delaney: 'Sadly, 'sorry' seems to be the hardest word for the TDs who excoriated Angela Kerins'

‘Bullied, harassed’: Angela Kerins has recieved an apology from Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who described questioning that “trampled on the rights of Angela Kerins” as “chilling”
‘Bullied, harassed’: Angela Kerins has recieved an apology from Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who described questioning that “trampled on the rights of Angela Kerins” as “chilling”

Eamon Delaney

Members of the Political Accounts Committee owe Angela Kerins a full apology.

They say sorry is the hardest word, and when it comes to our politicians, it is even harder. They are quick to pontificate and lecture others but when it comes to admitting they were wrong, they are strangely struck dumb. Especially about how they have accused others.

This is most famously the case with the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Its members have often been quick to grandstand and use witnesses for target practice for their own publicity. This is not to deny, of course, the valuable role the PAC has also played on unearthing revelations about public monies.

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The most notorious monstering was of Ms Kerins, the former chief executive of Rehab, who has had her name dramatically cleared by the Supreme Court after the PAC questioned her aggressively in 2014 on her personal finances.

The Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has issued a personal apology to Ms Kerins for the way she was treated.

The businesswoman claims PAC members knowingly acted outside their remit, seeking commercial information and details of private earnings rather than inquiring solely into Rehab services paid for by the HSE and Solas.

In a judgment delivered last month, the Supreme Court found the PAC had acted unlawfully as a whole in its treatment of Ms Kerins when she appeared before two hearings of the committee.

"The Kerins judgment was a watershed for us here in the Dáil," said Mr Ó Fearghaíl. "There has been much commentary outside about the chilling impact that the Kerins judgment might have on the Oireachtas.

"The only thing that I feel is chilling is that the Supreme Court found that a committee in the last Dáil had effectively broken the law, had trampled on the rights of Ms Kerins. That to me is chilling." These are strong words.

"I would personally apologise to Ms Kerins for the fact that that happened," said Mr Ó Fearghaíl, "and [it is] our absolute determination to make sure that in what remains of the 32nd Dáil, and in future, that type of situation will not happen again".

This is a gracious and sincere apology from the gatekeeper of our parliament, so why haven't we heard the same from the then members of the PAC?

Why don't they apologise for their treatment of Ms Kerins, which in the High Court she described as "bullying, harassment and persecution", which even led her to consider suicide.

The former PAC chairman John McGuinness has refused to say whether he will apologise to the former Rehab boss for her treatment at an Oireachtas committee, which is supposed to be above the standard of a bar-room kangaroo court.

When contacted, Mr McGuinness, a Fianna Fáil TD, said he had "no comment at this time" on whether he too would apologise.

Meanwhile, high-profile members of the committee, Transport Minister Shane Ross and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, have refused to say whether they would apologise to Ms Kerins.

The two TDs were among the most robust questioners of Ms Kerins when she was before the Public Accounts Committee in 2014. This is hardly surprising given their appetite for publicity and controversy.

Nor did Health Minister Simon Harris respond on the question of an apology. Again, given the fiascos around Harris's watch on health spending and cervical checks, he is a politician who could be doing a lot of apologising.

In fairness, the office of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy conceded that "at the time, Minister Murphy stated that the committee was acting outside its remit".

Murphy is a smart and considered guy who rescued the banking committee report and also helped rescue McGuinness as PAC chairman when, in a piece of internal bloodletting, Harris wanted to have McGuinness ousted because of revelations about the Fianna Fáil TD's own finances. Proof the PAC can be as ruthless against itself!

Most importantly, current PAC chairman Seán Fleming has said Ms Kerins was mistreated and deserves an apology.

Pointedly, Fleming also said "those who questioned her in an aggressive manner in 2014 should apologise".

So why haven't they done so? Why the silence from our usually visible and voluble politicians? The rest of us have to say sorry every day for things we said and did.

The media is constantly being held to account for corrections and apologies, often with a financial pay out.

So why should our politicians be allowed to swan around Leinster House without a dicky bird, even though they have thrashed someone publicly? Can they just go on to do the same again?

The public would like to hear such an apology so they don't think that politicians are above the expectations and laws of normal behaviour.

Worse still, such stonewalling only discredits the otherwise good work of the PAC which has unearthed revelations on the children's hospital overrun and on the President's allowances.

Alas, many politicians seem to be more preoccupied with scoring a hit on publicity and public ambush, regardless of the consequences.

Irish Independent

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