FRANK FLANNERY just doesn’t get it. The former chief executive, and latterly recipient of lucrative contracts with the Rehab Group, sees himself as a victim. He told Sean O’Rourke last Friday that “the damage done to that organisation is the greatest agony of my life at the moment”. Yet he can’t see that he bears at least some responsibility for that reputational damage. It was all done by “an illegal enterprise”, consisting of parliamentarians given a mandate by the people. Frank has been vindicated. His rights were, he believes, trampled on, yet not once has he referenced his responsibilities.
The Rehab saga took a turn last week when the Oireachtas Committee for Procedures and Privileges informed the Public Accounts Committee that it was not entitled to compel Flannery, or former Rehab CEO Angela Kerins, to appear before it.
That prompted Flannery to come out fighting. He cast himself as a lowly citizen, refusing to be dragged before a kangaroo court on a matter of principle.
“Some citizen had to stand up for the citizens and prevent this abuse of power and that obligation fell to me to do it,” he told O’Rourke. “I did that entirely as a matter of principle.”
On Monday, Kerins joined the fray. She issued legal proceedings against the PAC on a number of fronts, principally the manner in which she was treated when she appeared before the committee on February 27. The High Court will rule on that, but Kerins also appears to have completely ignored her responsibility in the matter.
The Rehab Group is a private, not-for-profit organisation which specialises in providing employment and services for people with disabilities. The State has a vested interest in these services being provided to citizens. That interest informs the policy to award major contracts to Rehab, averaging a value of €80m per annum. In addition, the Rehab Group collects from the public and, until recently, ran a lottery.
With such huge sums of public money swirling around the group, it’s natural that some accountability would be sought. How, for instance, would the public feel about contributing to a ‘charity’ in which the CEO was being paid more money than the elected leader of the country?
For at least three years, Ms Kerins’ salary was a matter of controversy. It first arose in 2011, when, following a number of media reports, she announced her salary was €234,000, having been reduced from €260,000. That level of remuneration was way out of line with salaries in the not-for-profit sector.
Then, earlier this year, following the scandal of salaries paid in the Central Remedial Clinic, the PAC turned its attention to Kerins. She and the board were invited to give evidence.
Flannery, a former CEO, and prominent board member, chose not to attend that day. He wasn’t invited directly, but it was open to him as a leading figure of the group, and chair of the remuneration committee on the board, to go in and clear things up.
If his primary concern was the reputation of Rehab, surely this would have been the course of action to follow? Instead, while Kerins was giving evidence, Flannery was elsewhere in Leinster House, reportedly dining with the then environment minister, Phil Hogan.
The optics spoke volumes. A puny Oireachtas committee could huff and puff about Rehab, but the leading figure in the group, who was also Fine Gael’s principle strategist, was having a little get together with one of the most powerful figures in government in the same complex.
If he had come in, he might have been asked to explain how Kerins’ salary had been increased in the last three years to €240,000 at a time when, for instance, people with disabilities experienced further cuts to their supports. It could have been put to him whether, as a leading board member, he thought this appropriate when some of the group’s services were cut back due to the recession.
Just last year, 18 workers in a Rehab Recycling facility in Galway were made redundant due to “poor market conditions”. These workers, most of them people with disabilities, were paid €9.09 an hour, of which €5.05 was covered by a wage subsidy scheme. The cost to Rehab of €4.04 per hour was deemed unsustainable due to market conditions, yet at the top of the group the CEO was getting a little top-up to keep her sweet.
Flannery might also have been asked about his own salary on departing the group, and the level of his current pension. He could have been asked about the €409,000 he has received in consultancy fees during the course of the seven recessionary years since he stepped down as CEO. Is it best corporate governance that a non-executive board member be providing that kind of service? He might well have been asked what exactly he did for all that money.
He might also have been questioned on Eco Solutions, a coffin-importing business, spun off from Rehab in which he and Kerins had a personal interest.
But Frank didn’t appear. He obviously didn’t feel that he has a responsibility to deal with any controversy that might damage Rehab. Instead, Kerins went in and, depending on your point of view, was either evasive, or was badgered by parliamentarians who grew increasingly frustrated at a lack of complete answers to their questions.
The damage done to Rehab has primarily been through an impression created by the facts that those at the top continued to live high on the hog through years of devastating cutbacks, not least for people with disabilities. The PAC did not create those facts; it merely dragged them out into the public square.
Flannery obviously believes he has no responsibility to counter that impression and retrieve the group’s good name. Instead, he has wrapped himself in the cloak of victimhood, the last refuge of the powerful laid low.
“Somebody had to stand up to them,” he told O’Rourke. “And it was my sheer misfortune that it turned out to be me. If I made one small contribution to at least drawing people’s attention to the abuse that was going on, I think it was worth it, even though it cost me enormously.”
What a hero. Standing up for the small guy against an out-of-control parliament. In Flannery’s book, the PAC is the story, not alleged featherbedding in the Rehab Group. He’s big on his rights. Responsibility, it would appear, is a matter for others.