Kerins judgement could cost taxpayer 'millions of euro' in damages, warn public officials

Angela Kerins

Some of the country's top public officials have warned the Angela Kerins judgement could cost the taxpayer “millions of euro” in damages.

The judgement must “radically change” “unfairly hostile” Oireachtas committee hearings, or they may refuse to appear.

Senior officials have described the behaviour of some committees as increasingly “outrageous” adding some have descended into total show trials for the benefit of the politicians.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is under particular scrutiny as it was the committee Ms Kerins appeared before in early 2014.

Some senior officials have said the failure of the Oireachtas to properly control its committees meant a challenge like the lodged by Ms Kerins one was “inevitable”.

One official appeared to suggest that Ms Kerins could be in line to receive “millions of euro in damages,” on foot of the decision.

“This will change a lot. It has to. Committees have stopped being about seeking to hold people to account and have become forums in which people's reputations are shredded. That is not what committees are for,” said one top official.

The calls for reform come as the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission is to meet in the coming days to discuss the Supreme Court defeat in the Angela Kerins case.

It is expected that Commission members, including Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail and Seanad Cathaoirleach Denis O'Donovan, will be briefed about the 93-page provisional judgement by their legal advisors.

The Supreme Court has demanded further submissions from both Ms Kerins and the Oireachtas on two matters including how she was treated and whether the committee can be held liable for the comments on one individual member.

The role of the ex-PAC chair John McGuinness is also to be examined by the Supreme Court ahead of its ultimate judgement which is due to be delivered on April 8.

Ms Kerins has been requested to file further written submissions directed solely on the two matters no later than close of business on Wednesday March 13. The PAC will be required to file replying submissions by Wednesday March 27.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court concluded that the Dáil can be the appropriate defendant in proceedings concerning the conduct of a committee.

The Court has also concluded that it is not appropriate, for constitutional reasons, to name the individual members of a committee as defendants. The Court indicated that it will require further submissions on what course of action should be adopted.

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