herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Taxpayer at risk of legal costs in Dail Rehab probe

THE Dail spending watchdog has been warned if it compels Frank Flannery and Angela Kerins to appear before it, without legal powers, the taxpayer will be footing the bill in the courts.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been involved in a standoff with the rule making body governing committees in Leinster House over the compelling of witnesses.

The Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP) has told PAC it will be acting outside the law by bringing in witnesses, such as former Rehab officials.

"A mis-step will ultimately cost the taxpayer," a senior source told the Herald.

The PAC disagrees and has formally applied for permission to call Ms Kerins and Mr Flannery before it as part of its investigation into Rehab's finances. But Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, who chairs the committee, has agreed to get a third legal opinion from a Senior Counsel on the matter.

CPP sources say the committee is seeking to protect the taxpayer. If the PAC compels witnesses to appear without adequate legal backing, the individuals concerned could go to court and win, the CPP's legal advice said.

"The CPP can only operate within the law and the same goes for the PAC," a source said.

"If they go beyond it, they expose the Oireachtas and thus the people, to large and avoidable legal costs."

"If the CPP were to grant compellability to the PAC against the advice it has received, it would be exposing the Oireachtas, and therefore the taxpayer, to a potentially large legal bill."

The CPP has also been annoyed the portrayal of its actions as blocking the work of the PAC and it's decision-making is politically motivated.

"The CPP is a rules committee but it's not a making-up the rules committee," a source said.

"The Dail, not the CPP, makes the rules and does so in public. Despite the constant public inferences, it is guided by what it is legally authorised to do."

hnews@herald.ie

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