Former Rehab Group chief executive Angela Kerins is seeking to extend the courts’ control over parliamentary proceedings in a “very significant and wholly unprecedented” way, lawyers for the Dáil public accounts committee have told the High Court.
PAC has existed as a parliamentary institution since 1695, and the need for it derives from the requirement to make government answerable for its expenditure, said Paul Gallagher, counsel for the committee. Ms Kerins was asked “legitimate” questions concerning expenditure of “a huge sum” of public monies paid to Rehab, he said.
In affidavits, PAC chair John McGuinness, Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou MacDonald, and Independent TD Shane Ross denied complaints by Ms Kerins over questions and comments made during two PAC hearings on February 27 and April 10, 2014.
Its hearings are normally “very robust” and the committee has a very important democratic function to rigorously scrutinise the expenditure of public funds, they said. They also denied any personal animus, malice, or bias towards Ms Kerins.
About 40% of Rehab’s income comes from the State and RehabCare receives €40m annually from the HSE, said Mr McGuinness. PAC acts in the public interest, does not make adverse findings against individuals, and could not be blamed for the media interest in Rehab, the court heard.
There had been “huge concern” in the public domain about the length of time Ms Kerins took to reveal her salary and about the amount of that when revealed, he said. She indicated it was €240,000 base pay with an €18,000 car and €14,400 pension contribution; that seemed to PAC “a large salary for an entity in receipt of substantial public funds”, said Mr McGuinness.
At the request of Michael Parker of Insight Consulting, representing Ms Kerins and Rehab, Mr McGuinness said he met her on January 24, 2014, with a view to ensuring the February 27 PAC hearing went well and told her in the “clearest possible terms” its interest was in taxpayers’ money, how it was spent, and the way it funded salaries.
He had no memory of saying to her that some PAC members “do not like you”. He said he had not made repeated contact with Ms Kerins in early 2013 in relation to saving the job of a Rehab employee.
A three-judge court — comprising Justices Peter Kelly, Seamus Noonan, and Isobel Kennedy — is hearing arguments over PAC’s jurisdiction to conduct the hearings concerning Rehab before any other issues are addressed, including whether Ms Kerins is entitled to damages.
In her case against PAC and the State, Ms Kerins claims the conduct of the hearings was outside PAC’s jurisdiction and unlawful. She is claiming damages on grounds including personal injury, loss of reputation and loss of career. She claims she was so overwhelmed after the February 27 hearing that she later attempted to take her life and was unable to attend the April hearing.
The hearing continues.
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