PAC takes aim at Kerins' extortionate pay packet

Though she wasn’t present at the PAC meeting yesterday, Angela Kerins and her extortionate pay packet loomed large as committee members took aim, writes Political Editor Mary Regan

PAC takes aim at Kerins' extortionate pay packet

WHEN the country’s highest paid banker is in the room next door, it takes a very controversial payment to steal all the headlines.

But so it was yesterday when Angela Kerins — physically absent from a Dáil committee hearing — made her presence strongly felt with a legal threat to her former Rehab colleagues not to reveal any details of her golden handshakes payment or pension from the disability charity which she quit last week.

As Bank of Ireland boss Richie Boucher defended his €843,000 pay package in the room next door, he must have wondered how it came to be that this would be overshadowed by the earnings of a charity boss.

Ms Kerins was not able to attend the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting examining how the charity uses over €90m a year in state money — because of ill health.

But the handling of her absence spoke volumes about the culture in the organisation where one “forceful individual” — as a colleague described her — could “conduct affairs without questions” from a board of directors who — by its own admission — was “inadequate in its control”.

It was an organisation “regarded by some as a personal fiefdom”, concluded Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald. “They could break the rules and do so with impunity.”

Hints of that culture were unveiled early in the meeting. Details were read of a letter Ms Kerins’ lawyers had sent the night before, warning the charity it was “prohibited” from disclosing “private” information about her pension or lump-sum payment which would be in breach of her data protection rights.

Furthermore, she was “withdrawing” her earlier “waiver” of these rights, which she had previously given to disclose her annual remuneration of €272,400 — something that drew sniggers from committee members.

Her lawyers went further, warning that this letter was subject to legal privilege and should not be published — something the committee chairman partially ignored in order to explain the lack of such information to the committee.

Present at yesterday’s meeting were the current director of finance, Keith Poole, group chairman Brian Kerr, and three members of its remuneration committee, including its chair, Declan Doyle

While they tried to give a “hands-up” and “frank” disclosure of any issues put to them, it was clear that their hands were still very much tied behind their backs by the legal constraints of Rehab’s former boss, and a shortage of information she might have supplied to them.

“I wasn’t aware I was invited,” Mr Kerr said when was asked why he did not attend the last meeting as requested through Ms Kerins.

He thought he had been kept in the loop about everything, but didn’t seem so sure. “To be frank, I wouldn’t be rushing to come in here if I could avoid it,” he said, to laughter.

Independent TD Shane Ross, observed: “It’s increasingly beginning to look like the board was a rubber stamp for the CEO and she told you what she felt like telling you.”

Most of the issues the committee wanted to discuss involved two key players: Ms Kerins and her predecessor as chief executive, Frank Flannery, who resigned his directorship of the company last month.

But both gave their excuses not to attend — ill health in the case of Ms Kerins. “One can see a strain in Angela,” said Mr Kerr, adding that she was “under such stress and strain that she was very ill. I could see it with my own eyes.”

There were a range of reasons for not attending given by Mr Flannery, which the committee described as “contemptible”.

Ms Kerins was the person who signed off on the arrangements that saw Mr Flannery receive €400,000 in consultancy fees between 2006 and 2013. Most payments were at a level that could have been unilaterally approved by her, and Mr Poole was simply not involved.

It also emerged that a coffin-importation service — whose directors were Mr Flannery, Ms Kerins’ brother Joseph McCarthy and her husband Sean Kerins — was only set up after Ms Kerins suggested it should look after some work.

She had told a previous committee meeting that she had suggested in November 2009 that the plan to import coffins could be outsourced by Rehab to an existing firm, Complete Eco Solutions.

But Ms Lou McDonald provided documents yesterday showing the company did not actually exist until December 7, 2009.

It later emerged, under questioning, that one staff member had made a complaint against Ms Kerins two months ago — around the same time as the PAC began its examination of the charity. No further details were given about this complaint, for legal reasons.

Mr Flannery — who stepped down as a director last month — refused to appear before the meeting, arguing that it was addressing issues “over which I have no involvement, no authority, and no knowledge”.

He issued a legal letter to the committee on Wednesday evening making a number of accusations which it rejected in a responding letter as “utterly unmeritorious”.

In a press statement, Mr Flannery — a former Fine Gael strategist — said the committee was going beyond its remit “in the pursuit of a partisan political agenda designed to damage the party I have been associated with for many years” — something completely rejected even by the Fine Gael members of the committee.

He also wrote a legal letter to the committee yesterday demanding to know who leaked his letter from the night before. This piece of correspondence, PAC chair John McGuinness said, would be “put into the nonsense file”.

PAC members suggested all of this secrecy was doing damaging not just to Rehab but to the entire charity sector. Despite their knowing that six senior staff members received bonuses amounting to between €6,000 and €14,000 last year, none of the five men before the committee could answer what a home help worker for Rehab actually earns. These are the very staff members who are now embarrassed to say they work for Rehab and are taking a lot of abuse for the controversies surrounding their far higher paid seniors.

Mr Poole — one of just three senior staff members to waive his bonus — said he feels a certain degree of responsibility. “Sometimes I feel angry, sometimes I feel disappointed,” he said reflecting a general mood, adding that it’s his “firm wish” that the organisation can recover.

This was reflected by the board members. “It is far better today if we stop having a postmortem,” said director Hugh Governey.

“We are determined to put Rehab back where Rehab was, and that I again will be delighted to be associated with Rehab because I’m not particularly proud at the moment of where I am sitting,” he said.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy pointed out their problem in getting to that point. “If they don’t come in here to the committee, then how are going to resolve this for your organisation,” he asked.

“They owe it to Rehab, they owe it to the charitable sector to come in here and deal with this for once and for all. Then we can all move on.”

In this game of cat and mouse involving the PAC and witnesses, there only ever seems to be one winner. But this time, it seems, the reputation of a hugely damaged charity sector is reliant on two former bosses — who have professed their passion and commitment to the charities they work for — coming forward to face the music.

It seems that with the two former Rehab bosses, they have been getting away with having their own way for too long.

“Were you dominated by one person over two successive chief executives,” Mr Ross asked.

“The board was quite questioning, but in some ways we could have been tougher,” said Mr Doyle.

“I’ve only been on the board with one CEO who has possibly made some errors of judgment, but in the overall scheme of things has done an outstanding job,” said Mr Governey.

“She was a forceful individual, obviously, but that was also a great asset for the organisation,” said Mr Poole.

“Dominant CEOs often destroy an organisation but she’s been very successful,” said Mr Kerr.

“Well, you’ve come to a pretty pass under her,” Mr Ross replied.

Rehab’s top earners last year:

* Recently retired chief executive, Angela Kerins:

Her solicitor ordered Rehab officials not to reveal any more details about her salary, pension, bonuses, perks, expenses or severance package.

However, it has previously been revealed that she was on a basic salary of €240,000, a contractual entitlement to a bonus of up to €80,000, an Audi company car, pension contributions and a significant severance package.

* Director of finance, Keith Poole:

€152,667 a year. He told yesterday’s PAC meeting he has refused to accept bonuses in recent years as the pension of Rehab workers has been badly hit by the recession, because other positions have been made redundant, and because staff in his unit have not received a pay rise in five years.

* Director of health and social care services, Laura Keane:

€150,000 a year.

* Director of training, employment and education, Marie Kelly:

€174,000 a year.

* Director human resources, Shona Boyne:

€141,552 a year. Like Mr Poole, Ms Boyne also refused bonuses in recent years — the only two current executive team members to do so.

* Director of fundraising and lotteries, Dr John McGuire:

€130,000 a year.

* Director of policy and service compliance, Sarah Jane Dillon:

€104,000 a year.

* Director of public affairs, communications and IT, Cliodhna O’Neill:

€130,000 a year.

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