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wood you believe

The curious case of the CEO and the coffin business

Angela Kerins, her family and Rehab’s relationship with Complete Eco Solutions is under scrutiny again. What is it all about?

Updated 11.20pm

THE COFFIN-MAKING sector is not one that normally makes headlines. It is a business where those two unavoidables – death and taxes – intersect, but is not usually a teatime topic of conversation for the nation.

Today however, coffins – and more specifically cheap coffin parts from China – became a recurring obsession of the Public Accounts Committee.

In the absence of Angela Kerins from Committee Room 1 today, the PAC pored over the ways in which newly resigned Rehab Group exec may have benefitted from her post as CEO.

Her remuneration and pension arrangements, we were told, are back under wraps under pain of legal action against her former employers should they utter a word about it.

As 40 per cent of her salary came from taxpayers’ and money fundraised by the Irish public, as we also learned today, the question of whether they can withhold on those details remains to be answered.

And so to one area which members of the Public Accounts Committee, most noticeably Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and PAC vice-chairperson Kieran O’Donnell, could hold up to the light:

  • How did the husband of Angela Kerins, and her brother and Frank Flannery become involved in supplying coffins from China for a Rehab enterprise in Kilkenny?
  • How involved was Angela Kerins herself?
  • Did Rehab know – and were they at all concerned?

Why coffins?

Rehab Enterprises is a subsidiary of the Rehab Group which aims to create employment for people with disabilities. According to a letter supplied to the PAC on 11 March this year (click point 10 on this letter), Rehab Enterprises decided in late 2009 to test a new business idea to create employment at its Kilkenny facility: a coffin-making business.

Angela Kerins, and Rehab, say that Kerins was approached out of the blue by a Rehab board member (unnamed) to ask her brother, who lived in China, to see if he could help with sourcing economically-efficient components which would shipped to Kilkenny for the making of the coffins.

In the 11 March letter to PAC, Kerins says that she was actually asked “if she would have any objection to Rehab Enterprises asking for help from her brother, who had significant business in China, to help source the materials to test the market”. The letter reads:

Ms Kerins agreed on the basis that the matter was brought to the Rehab Group Board for approval, which was duly done on 23 November 2009.

Asked today when Rehab had its very first contact with the China-based brother of Angela Kerins, one of Rehab’s directors Hugh Governey said: “I don’t know.”

TD Kieran O’Donnell, vice-chairperson of the PAC, answered: “Sure, that’s the key. Did the connection with her brother come directly from Ms Kerins?”

Governey reasserted today: “At all stages, Ms Kerins declared her family’s interest in this project”. Kerins has maintained that she was hands-off with the coffins business from there on in.

Which came first – the coffins or the company?

The company which ended up supplying the components to the Rehab Enterprises facility in Kilkenny is called Complete Eco Solutions.

Hugh Governey said today: “Complete Eco Solutions was a company based in China. The reason for its name was not connected with the coffins.”

The company, it is contended by Rehab today, was not set up specifically to make a profit from supplying the coffin materials to Rehab.

This is where Mary Lou McDonald raised questions today. Complete Eco Solutions was set up in December 2009. However, Angela Kerins appraised the Rehab board of her family’s connection to the company which was being “asked for assistance” in November 2009.

In January 2010, Rehab signed a contract with Complete Eco Solutions to source coffin components for its pilot coffin-making project in Kilkenny.

Who was/is Complete Eco Solutions?

The company – in the last documents filed with the Companies Registration Office (CRO) to end of year 2012 (returns filed in June 2013) – had two directors, Joseph McCarthy, brother of Angela Kerins; and Frank Flannery, who preceded Angela Kerins as CEO of Rehab.

Her husband, Sean Kerins, had been a director of the company until 31 August 2010 when he resigned “due to its involvement with Rehab”. As noted above, the contract with Rehab was signed eight months earlier, in January 2010.

According to those documents filed for 2012, there were at that time still three shareholders of Complete Eco Solutions Ltd. with a third of the overall shares each – Frank Flannery, Joseph McCarthy and Sean Kerins.

The operation ceased in 2012, according to Kerins, and Frank Flannery was not a director of the Rehab Group “at the time of the trial” (in 2010 – he became a director of Rehab Group in 2011).

File Photo Angela Kerins and Frank Flannery will not appear before PAC Committee Frank Flannery and Angela Kerins, absent today from the PAC, but discussed at length. Gareth Chaney / Photocall Ireland! Gareth Chaney / Photocall Ireland! / Photocall Ireland!

Coffin-making: dead money?

Rehab says that: “A once-off purchase in 2010 of two containers of coffins was made by Rehab Enterprises through Complete Eco Solutions. CES sourced and delivered the coffins for Rehab Enterprises Enterprises.

“A delivery of 252 coffins was received and payments to the total of €70,400 + CVAT was made to CES, at a net cost of €279 per unit. No further orders were made. It is Rehab’s understanding that no profit was made by CES on the transaction.”

Did the coffins that were made shift? Keith Poole, the Rehab Group’s Financial Director, pictured above, said today that the remainder of the coffins were sold off “for €20,000″. A Sunday Independent report at the start of March quoted an invoice sent anonymously to the PAC which states that they sold for €10,000 (plus VAT).

Where did they go? Who bought them? “I don’t know,” said Poole today. (The reported invoice says a shipping company, Diamond Shipping, took them off their hands.)

In any case, the venture was a failure for both CES and Rehab. As Poole said: “It didn’t fly.”

The questions left unanswered:

1 Who exactly first mooted the idea that the brother of Angela Kerins become involved in the coffin-assembling project?

If it was a Rehab board member, as claimed today and as suggested in the 11 March letter from Kerins and Rehab to the PAC, who was that?

2 How worried were Rehab about Angela Kerins’s family involvement and indeed the involvement of Frank Flannery, a former Rehab CEO, in the project?

Chairman of the Rehab Group, Brian Kerr, was asked today if it was “ill-advised” that the CES was linked to Flannery in particular and that it looked like a company was set up for the express purpose of supplying Rehab Enterprises with materials for the coffins project. “I would accept that,” said Kerr, pictured here at PAC today:


According to Angela Kerins when she appeared in front of PAC in February, she was “uncomfortable” with her own family connection to the project but that she had always removed herself from dealings with it in Rehab. Which leads to the next question…

3 Did Angela Kerins completely remove herself from dealings with this project after the initial proposal to her that her brother be involved?

Mary Lou McDonald produced an email under parliamentary privilege today at the PAC hearing, which was a draft of a business plan for the coffin business sent by a Michael Horgan (now departed from Rehab in unclear circumstances). It was sent to Keith Poole and Angela Kerins.

Today, Poole said that he was asked to look at it to see if it looked viable, and that he believed that Angela Kerins asked that she no longer be included in such discourse. He could not recall where he heard that Kerins asked to be excluded from further such emails and discourse. That email was sent on 18 December 2009 said McDonald, a fact confirmed by Poole.

4 Did the money for the failed venture come from public funding?

Poole categorically said today that, “It didn’t come from public funding.” However, the issue of how the Rehab Group’s pool of funding in Ireland should be viewed and broken down was also one scrutinised in today’s hearing.

TD Sean Fleming today took a deeper dive into the figures of how Rehab’s Irish operations are funded. It turns out that 81 per cent of that funding comes from State/taxpayer monies (eg, through the HSE, capital grants, SOLAS, the wage subsidy scheme). If you add in funds raised by the Irish public, it rises to 92 per cent.

Keith Poole said of that assessment: “Absolutely, your figures are correct.”

Bonus question: 

Originally published 9.30pm

Frank Flannery was paid over €400k by Rehab since 2007>
Kerins and Flannery legal threats to Rehab not to reveal finances>

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