The Dáil’s ceann comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, has made a public apology to ex-Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins over her treatment by TDs, warning that a clampdown on committee powers is now needed.
Fianna Fáil TD Mr Ó Fearghaíl apologised for the questions Ms Kerins faced during Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings in 2014 after the Supreme Court ruled that politicians acted unlawfully during the grillings.
In a ruling late last month, the court found that PAC “acted unlawfully” in how it questioned Ms Kerins over a series of financial issues surrounding charity organisation Rehab.
During an interview on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics programme, Mr Ó Fearghaíl apologised for what happened and said the way in which Ms Kerins was questioned should not occur again.
“I would personally apologise to Ms Kerins for the fact that happened and our absolute determination is to ensure that in what remains in the 32nd Dáil, and in future Dáileanna, that type of situation will not happen again,” said Mr Ó Fearghaíl.
“The Kerins judgement was a watershed for us here in the Dáil.
“There has been much commentary on the outside of the chilling impact the Kerins judgement has on the Oireachtas.
“The only thing that I see as 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, and that to me is chilling.”
Asked about the future of Oireachtas committees in light of the Kerins ruling, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said he believes that set rules must be imposed on how committees question witnesses when they appear before them.
While emphasising the need for ongoing “robust questioning” of witnesses, he said proposed new rules will be tabled in September which could see a clampdown on the scale of Oireachtas committee powers.
“There has to be an agreed protocol around how we will deal with witnesses, robustly questioning them on the pertinent issues but respecting those witnesses who have come before us,” he said.
A number of Oireachtas committees have said that there is a need to ensure they are allowed to pose legitimate questions to witnesses when examining public interest issues.