The Dáil’s public accounts committee is seeking a “root and branch examination” by the courts concerning its jurisdiction and powers of inquiry, the president of the High Court has said.
John Rogers, counsel for former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins, said while his side believed those issues have already been addressed in judgments including of the Supreme Court halting an Oireachtas sub-committee’s inquiry into the shooting dead by gardaí of John Carthy at Abbeylara in 2000, he could not object to PAC’s application.
In its 5-2 Abbeylara majority decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Oireachtas has no power to conduct an inquiry capable of leading to adverse findings of fact against citizens which would impugn their good names.
Mr Rogers made the remarks at a hearing to consider the wording of questions for determination by the High Court relating to PAC’s jurisdiction to question Ms Kerins about issues including payments to Rehab and herself.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly said PAC was effectively arguing for a “root and branch examination” of fundamental issues concerning its jurisdiction. Due to the importance of those issues, Judge Kelly is convening a three-judge or divisional High Court to decide them at a hearing opening on July 13.
The issues, concerning the nature and scope of PAC’s jurisdiction to question Ms Kerins and what rights apply to her during such questioning, will be decided prior to the full hearing of her action alleging PAC engaged in a “witchhunt” against her.
In her action, Ms Kerins is seeking orders and damages on foot of claims including PAC acted unlawfully and was guilty of misfeasance in public office, causing distress and injury to her health.
PAC denies her claims and maintains it was entitled to question her in circumstances where 81% of Rehab’s income in Ireland was provided by the State.
Yesterday Judge Kelly heard further submissions by Paul Gallagher, for PAC, and Mr Rogers about the wording of the jurisdiction questions for determination. He will consider the submissions before finalising the wording.
The judge also informed the sides he is chairman of St Francis Hospice in Dublin, which receives HSE funding. His position is voluntary and he receives no monies or expenses for it, but he was raising the matter should the sides have any objection to his presiding over the divisional court, he said.
Mr Gallagher, Conor Power, for the State, and Mr Rogers indicated they did not anticipate objection from their clients.
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