Thursday, June 23, 2022

High Court reporters

Dáil Éireann has not offered an apology to former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins since the Supreme Court found the Public Accounts Committee acted unlawfully in its treatment of her when she appeared before it in 2014, the High Court has heard.

Ms Kerins’s counsel, John Rogers SC, made the statement on Thursday in response to questioning from Mr Justice Alexander Owens.

The High Court judge had asked if the Dáil had apologised or taken action in response to the Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling, to which Mr Rogers responded: “Nothing like that has emerged.”

He said his side had approached the Dáil Committee on Procedure and Privileges seeking a remedy.

Mr Justice Owens said he was interested to know if there was an apology as he recalled the Supreme Court’s reference to the lack of remedies available to Ms Kerins, as the Dáil Committee had declined to intervene.

Scope

In 2019, a seven-judge Supreme Court declared that the actions of the Dáil committee as a whole were such that they condoned the “significant departure” by at least three members from the terms of the committee’s invitation to Ms Kerins to appear before it.

The invitation and related correspondence permitted questioning about Ms Kerins’s salary and the operation by Rehab of three schemes funded by the State, the court found.

Questioning on areas “well outside” this scope took up a significant part of the February 2014 hearing, including in relation to salaries of other Rehab officials and certain other commercial relationships Rehab had, the court said.

The seven-hour hearing came amid a period of public controversy about her €240,000 salary at Rehab, a private charitable entity in receipt of extensive public funding.

The High Court is hearing a discovery application brought by Ms Kerins in her claim for damages against Dáil Eireann, the Attorney General and Ireland. She is seeking all minutes of meetings of the committee and/or individual members, whether in public or in private session.

These records are sought in an attempt to understand, among other things, the extent of the committee’s knowledge of the limitations on its remit for the 2014 hearings. Certain legal advice obtained by the committee is also sought to be disclosed as evidence of the committee’s “state of mind” prior to Ms Kerins’s appearance before it.

Actions & utterances

In pursuing this claim, there is a distinction being made between the committee’s actions and its utterances, said Mr Rogers.

This is in light of the Supreme Court’s finding that although Article 15 of the Constitution confers a wide scope of privilege and immunity on the Oireachtas and its committees, it does not provide an absolute barrier to the bringing of legal proceedings concerning a committee’s actions.

In her challenge, commenced in 2014, Ms Kerins alleges she was subjected to questioning at the February hearing that amounted to a “witch hunt”.

She claims this resulted in her being too unwell to attend a second related hearing in April. The impact on her was so great, she said, that she later attempted to take her own life.

The first module of her case examined whether the courts had jurisdiction to interfere with hearings before Oireachtas committees.

Mr Kerins appealed to the Supreme Court a ruling of a three-judge High Court that was strongly critical of the committee’s treatment of Ms Kerins but concluded the courts could not intervene due to the constitutional separation of powers.

Following its landmark ruling, the Supreme Court stressed that any dispute between the sides about further progress of the case should be decided by the High Court in the first instance, as its decision related to the first module of the action only.

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