Saturday 7 December 2019

Ceann Comhairle sorry for treatment of Kerins after 'watershed' verdict

Ex-Rehab boss Angela Kerins
Ex-Rehab boss Angela Kerins

The Ceann Comhairle has "personally apologised" to former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins over her questioning by TDs.

Sean O Fearghail told RTE's The Week In Politics yesterday he found the Supreme Court verdict that the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had "trampled" on Ms Kerins's rights "chilling".

The Supreme Court found the PAC "acted unlawfully" in its treatment of Ms Kerins in a ruling last month.

The judgment, described as highly significant, has sparked discussion about the manner in which Oireachtas committees should conduct their business.

Ms Kerins sued the committee, its clerk, the clerk of the Dail, Ireland and the Attorney General over her treatment at two PAC meetings in 2014, the first of which she attended and the second she did not.

Earlier this year, the court found it had the power to declare the committee acted unlawfully, if it "as a whole" acted outside its remit and breached the terms of the invitation it had extended to Ms Kerins to appear.

It sought further submissions on this and on May 29 gave its final ruling on the issue.

The decision means Ms Kerins may now pursue further legal action in the High Court.


Mr Justice Clarke said the Supreme Court intended to award Ms Kerins her costs in both an earlier unsuccessful High Court action and her successful Supreme Court appeal.

When Ms Kerins lost the earlier High Court case, she was ordered to pay a third of her costs.

The costs ruling means the Kerins case could end up costing the taxpayer in the region of €1m.

The ultimate cost to the taxpayer could be even more should Ms Kerins now seek damages.

It is by no means certain she will get damages, however.

Mr O Fearghail expressed his deep regret yesterday at what had happened to Ms Kerins and described the judgment as a "watershed" for members of the Oireachtas.

He said an internal group of civil servants was set up to look at the ruling's implications and to look at the functionality of Oireachtas committees.

He added changes were imminent and he hopes to put proposals to the house in September to amend standing orders and change how the committees operate.

Mr O Fearghail was especially critical of the duplication of inquiries.

"It was very obvious that there was excessive duplication and part of the reform package we are looking at is streamlining how the committee system functions, perhaps giving the business committee a role," he said.

"The idea of witnesses coming before two or three committees is patently ridiculous.

"We have to be able to have robust questioning… we don't want echo chambers, but we can't have star chamber either.

"So there has to be an agreed protocol around how we will deal with witnesses, robustly questioning them on pertinent issues, but respecting those witnesses who have come before us at the same time."

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