Hearing ‘an inquiry’ into charity sector

A hearing of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee into payment of public monies to the Rehab Group was “truly an inquiry into the charity sector” and the earnings of people in that sector, the High Court has been told.

“If you were in the way of that, the PAC steamroller would knock you down,” John Rogers said.

Former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins was publicly exposed by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), “with no notice whatever”, to questions about the charity which inferred impropriety, lack of transparency and “even illegality”, counsel said.

The PAC had no jurisdiction to question Ms Kerins about payments made by Rehab, a private entity, as opposed to questioning her about payments of public monies to Rehab, he argued.

PAC chairman John McGuinness, he added, failed to protect Ms Kerins or ensure that hearings of February 27 and April 10, 2014, concerning Rehab were conducted within parameters of a notice served on her on February 18.

Members of the committee “condemned” Ms Kerins and another former Rehab CEO Frank Flannery as a result of questions and comments made during both hearings, he said.

Ms Kerins, who did not attend the April 10 meeting due to ill health, was “deeply affected” by a line of questioning at that meeting “designed” to get answers from other Rehab officials that was going to discredit her and Mr Flannery, he said.

Mr Rogers was continuing his opening yesterday of a hearing to decide the jurisdiction of PAC to conduct such hearings.

That issue, with implications for future PAC inquiries, is central to Ms Kerins action against PAC and the State in which she is seeking damages for alleged personal injuries and reputational damage based on claims that PAC conducted itself unlawfully, showed bias towards her and was guilty of misfeasance in public office.

The hearing, which resumes next Tuesday, is before a three-judge High Court comprising High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy.

The PAC denies it acted outside its jurisdiction and pleads Ms Kerins voluntarily agreed to attend before it on February 27.

Ms Kerins was in court on Thursday when Mr Rogers indicated his side may next week play a video recording of part of the April 10 hearing to show “most egregious abuse of power” by the PAC.

The PAC wants to make available to the court other parts of the video recordings, the court heard.

Mr Rogers said, during the seven-hour session on February 27, 2014, PAC members persisted in questioning Ms Kerins about “entirely private” matters such as salaries and payments despite being told Rehab was a private and not a public body.

At the April 10 meeting, Mr McGuinness made contradictory comments, counsel said.

Mr McGuinness had wished Ms Kerins a speedy recovery but also said that it was “deplorable” that she was not present and made “judgmental” comments including that the “game of cat and mouse” should be over in the interests of the charity sector.

The Rehab delegation to that meeting was “forced”, for “compelling public relations reasons”, to report to the PAC on the workings of an “entirely private” enterprise, he said.


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