THE Supreme Court ruling last week that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had acted ‘unlawfully’ by straying outside its remit in the questioning of former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins will, hopefully, put manners on any Oireachtas members who try to use the hearings of such committees for grandstanding and garnering cheap publicity for themselves. In the case of Ms Kerins, the tone and aggressiveness of some of the quizzing of her back in 2014 was over the top and took a grave toll on her career and personal life, which was not warranted.
After the stress and anxiety it caused her, she was hospitalised, quit her €240,000 per annum job and tried to take her own life. This made her determined to seek redress through the courts, despite the fact that the activities and utterances of Oireachtas Committees are protected by Article 15.13 of the Constitution – as long as they are lawful.
The High Court did not find in Ms Kerins’ favour, but her appeal to the seven-judge Supreme Court saw that decision overturned and she can pursue her claim for damages again through the High Court. Her case was bolstered by the fact that the Oireachtas Committee on Procedures and Privileges had concluded that the PAC had acted outside its remit, but had done nothing about it.
Nobody disputes the right of the various Oireachtas Committees to ask pertinent questions in their efforts to hold people accountable for their actions and they play an important role in the exercise of democracy by doing this. The PAC, in particular, has done some great work in this regard over the years, probing how taxpayers’ money had been spent – and oft times wasted – and this has, mostly, been done fairly and transparently under good chairpersons.
Hopefully, the new ruling will consign the vigilante mob mentality exhibited by some in recent times to the dustbin of history and see a return to business being conducted with decorum in a dignified manner.