No ‘chilling effect’ on parliamentary committees following Kerins case

TDs and senators have been told they are wrong to feel there will be a “chilling effect” on their work in committees as a result of the Angela Kerins Supreme Court ruling.

Oireachtas officials insisted that politicians have no reason to fear any potential changes to committee scrutiny rules in response to the high-profile court case earlier this year.

In a groundbreaking finding in late May, the supreme court said former Rehab charity chief executive was treated “unfairly” by the previous Dáil’s public accounts committee.

The ruling came in response to a case taken by Ms Kerins in response to two appearances she made before the committee in early 2014 in relation to serious financial issues at the charity.

The situation has led to widespread fear among TDs and senators that there will be a “chilling effect” on any future in-depth scrutiny of public interest issues.

However, speaking at the latest PAC meeting today, Oireachtas chief parliamentary legal advisor, Melisa English, insisted there is no reason for anyone to be concerned about the upcoming changes.

“There have been messages out there about this chilling effect on parliamentary committees which is absolutely incorrect,” Ms English said, adding that if committees allow rights of reply and other matters courts will give them “a very wide margin of appreciation as to how you run your business”.

Ms English was responding to unaligned Independent TD Catherine Connolly, who said it has now been made “crystal clear” that there is no “chilling effect” from the Kerins judgment.

The discussion took place hours after the secretary general of Oireachtas services, Peter Finnegan, wrote to the PAC to inform it that committees have been asked to give their views on potential rule changes by October.

During the same meeting, Mr Finnegan also confirmed that the Angela Kerins and Denis O’Brien court cases have cost the Oireachtas €485,000 due, in part, to the large number of legal teams involved in the process.

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