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Timeline: Angela Kerins, charity salaries, and the saga of the baying PAC

Today’s High Court judgement against the former Rehab Group CEO brought to an end a saga that lasted almost three years.

Kerins at Board Meetings Angela Kerins Source: Mark Stedman/Rollingnews.ie

TODAY, FORMER REHAB chief executive Angela Kerins officially lost a High Court action she had taken against the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, stemming from an appearance she made before it in February 2014.

The fallout from that appearance was seismic. Pay at executive level at Ireland’s charities became a hot topic. A series of scandals regarding oversight and accountability followed, with the demise of suicide charity Console last year just the tip of the iceberg.

Kerins herself resigned her post after divulging her salary to the PAC, the loss of her career being just one of the grievances cited in her action seeking damages against the committee.

Today’s hearing finally brought that particular saga to a conclusion. Here’s a timeline of the key events:

2006

Waterford native and former nurse Angela Kerins is appointed chief executive of the Rehab Group after 15 years with the charity.

March 2012

It is disclosed that, on top of a €234,000 salary, Kerins has benefited to the tune of €23,000 from her role on the boards of two state bodies. She subsequently claims that the funds received from those roles are donated to charity.

January 2014

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Kerins declines to say what her current salary is. In the aftermath of that interview, the charity comes under increasing pressure to disclose its CEO’s remuneration. It eventually states it will make a decision on whether or not to disclose the information the following month.

Kerins at Board Meetings Kerins, pictured at a meeting of Rehab Group's board Source: Mark Stedman/Rollingnews.ie

February 2014

Rehab reveals that Kerins’ annual pay amounts to €240,000, together with a company car. The charity does not pay for its chief executive’s health insurance however.

In the fallout from this disclosure, Kerins agrees to appear before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the 27 February. In advance of that hearing, solicitors for Kerins send a letter to the members of the committee instructing them not to ask her any questions relating to her salary. The request is met with scorn by members of the PAC – then Independent TD Shane Ross describing it as “two fingers to the Dáil”. It is duly ignored.

The subsequent hearing lasts nearly seven hours. From the off Kerins receives a grilling as to the extent of her salary. She defends herself from Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, saying it is not funded by the taxpayer: “I don’t decide what my salary is.”

Source: Hugh O'Connell/YouTube

The executives appearing with Kerins (Laura Keane, John Maguire, and Marie Kelly) refuse to disclose their own pay deals under questioning. HSE chief Tony O’Brien, also appearing before the committee, then says he will provide that information later under absolute privilege.

Source: Hugh O'Connell/YouTube

Various members of the committee express their dissatisfaction that Kerins’ predecessor as Rehab CEO (and then Fine Gael director of elections and member of Rehab’s remuneration committee) Frank Flannery has not presented himself in order to answer questions as to how the chief executive’s salary is determined.

March 2014

In the fallout from Kerin’s infamous PAC appearance, the committee requests that Flannery appear to face questioning, and that Kerins likewise appear once more to clarify details given during her first session.

On 11 March the salaries of all Rehab’s executives are disclosed as promised – and it’s revealed that 12 of them earn more than €100,000.

April 2014

Kerins resigns from her role as chief executive on the 2 April, citing “the toll that public controversy has taken on the Rehab Group and my own family”.

Despite this, the PAC insists that both Kerins and Flannery are “absolutely expected” to appear before it the following week.

FRANK FLANNERY DISABILITY ALLIANCE SECOND NICE TREATY CAMPAIGN REFERENDUM IN IRELAND Frank Flannery and Angela Kerins, pictured in September 2002 while Flannery was still CEO of Rehab Source: Gareth Chaney/Rollingnews.ie

The ensuing will-they-won’t-they saga lasts until the following week, when both inform the committee they won’t be keeping their scheduled appointment for 10 April. Flannery, in a statement, says he had wanted to appear but had “no alternative but to decline to attend” given the “partisan political agenda” displayed by the PAC’s members.

Rehab subsequently tells PAC on the same date that they have been ordered legally by Kerins and Flannery not to reveal any further details as to their pension or salary arrangements. In the absence of either of the invitees, PAC instead pores over the details of a coffin-importing business involving Kerins’ husband Seán and a Rehab enterprise in Kilkenny.

May 2014

PAC  searches for powers of compellability in an attempt to coerce Flannery and Kerins to appear before it. The two respond with legal letters which Mary Lou McDonald describes as effectively throwing “the kitchen sink at the committee”. The letter from Kerins’ solicitor claims that the former-CEO was hospitalised in the wake of her previous PAC appearance.

k1 Source: Oireachtas.ie

In the aftermath committee chairman John McGuinness declares that the contretemps “isn’t anything personal”.

July 2014

In a move seemingly determined to bring the saga to a close, the Oireachtas Committee on Procedure and Privileges directs that PAC can not compel Flannery and Kerins to appear before it.

One week later, Kerins announces that she will take legal proceedings seeking damages against the committee members, saying that its probes into her involvement with Rehab were “unfair, unlawful, and prejudicial”. Such a move is unusual given the generally accepted status quo that the judiciary and parliamentary activity work independently of each other per the separation of powers enshrined in the Irish Constitution.

March 2015

In a preliminary hearing for the case, senior counsel representing the committee’s members (all of whom are named as respondents to the legal action) Paul Gallagher says that it would be “both novel and astounding” to hold members of the Oireachtas liable for utterances they made in conducting an inquiry.

90431637_90431637 Kerins pictured leaving the Four Courts in October 2016 Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

July 2016

On the first day of the High Court hearing, counsel for Kerins reveals that his client “self-harmed” and became unconscious in her own home on 14 March 2014 in the aftermath of her appearance before the PAC. Kerins is present in court for much of the ensuing trial.

“This is absolutely critical,” barrister John Rogers tells the three-judge panel regarding the PAC hearing. “From the very beginning Ms Kerins was asked about things that are totally unrelated to what she was there for.”

Rogers draws particular attention to the input of now-Minister for Transport Shane Ross at the PAC hearing on 27 February 2014. “I will not focus on individuals in this matter, apart from to say that Shane Ross does not take no for an answer,” he says. The key to Kerins’ case is the suggestion that the members of the PAC overstepped their remit in their questioning of her.

A letter from Kerins’ doctor in Waterford is later read to the court, in which the doctor suggest that Kerins had suffered from anxiety, exhaustion, insomnia, cardiac arrhythmia, abdominal and chest pain, and had collapsed repeatedly in the months prior to March 2014 as media attention and her appearance before the PAC took its toll.

January 2017

Angela Kerins loses her case for damages against the PAC. In his ruling, President of the High Court Peter Kelly states that the separation of powers means that “Oireachtas respondents cannot be made amenable to the jurisdiction of the court”.

“For upwards of four centuries it has been recognised in common law jurisdictions throughout the world that the courts exercise no function in relation to speech in parliament,” he says.

“The court is of the opinion that this claim must fail,” he concludes.

Kerins is not present in court to hear the verdict. The issue of legal costs in the case has yet to be decided.

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