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"Shane Ross doesn't take no for an answer" - court hears Dáil committee had no remit to ask about Angela Kerins' salary

Earlier the High Court heard that former Rehab CEO Kerins ‘self-harmed’ after her infamous PAC hearing in February 2014.

27/2/2014 Rehab at PAC Committees Angela Kerins, pictured in February 2014 Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Updated 16.43

THE FORMER CEO of Rehab Angela Kerins this afternoon focused on the seven-hour grilling she was given by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in February 2014 as her case for damages against the PAC continues.

Counsel for Kerins John Rogers spent today’s afternoon session examining the transcript of that appearance in minute detail, and stated that the then members of the PAC had no remit to ask Kerins the questions she faced with regard to her salary among other things.

Earlier this morning, the High Court heard that Kerins had allegedly ’self-harmed’ and had to be hospitalised after the Dáil committee hearing in 2014.

The information was shared during opening submissions in the case at the Four Courts.

“Totally unrelated”

Rogers this afternoon focused on his contention that the PAC had asked Kerins questions that were “totally unrelated” to the reasons for which she had appeared in front of the committee “voluntarily”.

Explaining that Kerins was a private citizen working in a private job, and that the fact her salary had been revealed was because she had chosen to waive her right to data protection, Rogers said that the PAC had therefore decided that this meant she was “fair game”.

“This is absolutely critical,” Rogers said. “From the very beginning Ms Kerins was asked about things that are totally unrelated to what she was there for.”

Those topics were: Rehab funding received from the HSE, funding received from SOLAS, and the charity lotteries compensation fund.

Among the instances of questions that Kerins faced that were outside the PAC’s remit, according to Rogers, were:

  • Mary Lou McDonald asking Kerins about a €6,000 increase in her salary the previous year
  • Kerins being asked as to what she thought the pension of former Rehab CEO Frank Flannery might be
  • Former Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell asking Kerins about her history of bonuses while CEO, and asking her whether or not she could understand that “the person looking in will ask” how she “reconciles” having such a high salary (Rogers described this as “irrelevant commentary in a public forum”)
  • Former Labour TD Ged Nash describing Rehab’s “complex” finances as being “deliberately opaque”

At the committee hearing former Labour TD Robert Dowds asked of Kerins:

Does she see a connection between the discussion of her salary… and the negative impact this is having not just on the Rehab organisation… but on other charitable organisations that may have no skeletons in their cupboards and whose CEOs are paid relatively small salaries?

“The suggestion here is that someone in the room had skeletons in their cupboards,” Rogers said.

We have reached page 74 of this transcript, we are just hearing more of the same, the same questions being asked again and again. Ms Kerins has told these deputies: ‘this isn’t what I’m here for’.

Rogers drew particular attention to the input of now-Minister for Transport Shane Ross at the PAC hearing.

“I will not focus on individuals in this matter, apart from to say that Shane Ross does not take no for an answer,” he said.

Referring to Ross being refused access to Kerins’ salary information for the previous ten years due to data protection laws and then asking another witness for the same information, Rogers said: “How many times do you have to be told?”

At the PAC chairman John McGuinness then said “By way of explanation to Ms Kerins, I am allowing Deputy Ross to pursue these questions because she stated that, in terms of her salary, she would waive her right to privacy. That opened this line of questioning”.

“It’s simple President,” Rogers said to presiding judge, and High Court President, Peter Kelly.

If you waive your right to privacy, then there’s no end to it, you’re fair game.

Clarification

Running through the PAC transcript, the specially-convened three-judge panel asked for a number of clarifications from Rogers on the workings of the Dáil committee.

At one stage Justice Kelly asked regarding the questions asked of Kerins: “Many of these questions are speeches, followed by a question, is that the case?”

“The President has just defined what the situation is here, which is very different from what we are used to,” Rogers replied.

The basic formula (of the committee) is to advance a proposition, discuss it to oneself, and then offer it as a question. It doesn’t seem to be a question targeted at relevant matters.

When discussing Rogers’ contention that the committee had no statutory remit to question Kerins about her salary, Justice Kelly asked: “Her salary didn’t come from public funds?”

“The case was being made that all of the funds involved could be tied into one fund,” Rogers replied.

“But that isn’t correct? So what was their entitlement to ask about her salary at all?” Justice Kelly said.

“You are entirely correct, Judge,” Rogers replied.

Earlier

Kerins left her role as Rehab CEO following the appearance in front of the PAC in February 2014, in which she was called upon to explain the charity’s wage bill and finances. At the time Kerins was on a salary of €240,000.

She is seeking damages against the PAC over that grilling, which she says cost her her job and made her ill to the point of spending 10 days in hospital.

At the High Court today she accused the PAC hearing, via affidavit, of causing her to be humiliated in national and international media, and leading to her career being destroyed.

She told the court that in March 2014 she consumed “a large quantity of pills and some alcohol” but didn’t succeed in her suicide attempt because a colleague from Rehab called her and raised the alarm.

She said she had become “irrationally convinced that the solution was to sacrifice myself. My death would resolve the controversy. Rehab would be spared and my family would be protected from further fallout from the PAC. In short, my death would solve the problem.”

The court also heard that Kerins said both she and Rehab had received an anonymous death threat.

“Courageous woman”

Today in court, Kerins’ counsel John Rogers said that his client “is a most courageous woman” and that “her submission to the court is one of the most difficult a person could ever have to make”.

He said that Kerins was “subjected to upbraiding language” during the PAC hearing and that the meeting “at times became judgemental”. He said that she was examined “on wholly private matters” including her salary, bonus and pension entitlements.

Following her appearance before the PAC, her counsel said Kerins was “overwhelmed by the effects” of the hearing and the effects of the media storm afterwards.

He said that in January 2014 Kerins “was confronted with a growing orchestration and voicing of material that was contrary to her interests and which gave a negative impression of her personality”.

An article by Shane Ross on a trip to Saudi Arabia taken by Kerins was mentioned in court. Counsel for Kerins said that it was “the beginning of a tone that was set”.

Hospital admission

The court heard that Kerins’ home doctor in Waterford had her admitted to Whitfield Hospital, and she was referred by a gastroenterologist to a psychiatrist. She was discharged some days later and then attended the Beacon in Sandyford until 11 March when she was discharged.

On 14 March 2014, Kerins “self-harmed” and became unconscious in her own home. She “had to be rescued for her life”, said her counsel.

In her own submission via affidavit, Kerins said that she was “deeply distressed” at the time and that media treatment “had continued unabated all the while”.

She said that “reason, logic and law seemed to have no bearing on the actions of the PAC”.

She said that she always saw her role “as to find solutions for problems, particularly for the Rehab group”.

My safety and that of others was threatened by an anonymous death threat. The obvious conclusion is that I should resign.

Kerins said in her affidavit that she disclosed her salary, but was “very wrong” in thinking that this “might satisfy the interest in me by the PAC who seemed only interested in publicly humiliating me”.

She accused the PAC of being only interested in headlines and provoking media interest as opposed to the outlined parameters of that committee’s interest.

Kerins said in her affidavit that she is “still in recovery” from her appearance before the PAC. “They are public servants and they should be held to account for their actions,” she said.

She said that they had “no sense of compassion for their victims” and that she has “agreed to relive those events so that hopefully no one ever again has to go through my experience”.

“If that happens then my actions will not have been in vain.”

Kerins said that she has oscillated between feelings of anger and depression over what has happened, that she continues to miss her organisation and has ongoing feelings of being rudderless and directionless.

She said she “took no enjoyment from life” and could only think about her dealings with the PAC.

Kerins added that while she did not attend the PAC under compulsion, “it is simplistic to describe my attendance as voluntary”.

She said her attendance “was clearly conditional on the PAC respecting the parameters of the letter of 18 February. That was the basis on which I attended, I did not think to subject myself to a vicious, vindictive and abusive onslaught by the members of the PAC”.

She added that her decision-making ability between February and April 2014 was impaired.

On the PAC, counsel for Kerins said:

[It] does seem that PAC has begun a different mode of operation in the last few years. It has shown a willingness to depart from the principle that it should not, ought not delve into the personal, private affairs of either companies or people.

Kerins first initiated her High Court action against the members of the PAC in July 2014.

The hearing is taking place before a special three-judge panel.

You can read the full transcript of Angela Kerins’ appearance before the PAC here.

Comments are closed as the case is before the courts.

First published 12.08pm

Suicide and self-harm helplines:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie - (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Read: It would be ‘astounding’ to expect TDs to pay damages to Angela Kerins – barrister>

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