The chief legal adviser to the Oireachtas has rejected claims that the recent Supreme Court judgment in the Angela Kerins case has had a "chilling effect" on the work of Dáil committees.

Mellissa English, one of the representatives of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, was before the Public Accounts Committee today.

She said it is "absolutely incorrect" that the message has gone out that the Kerins judgment has had a chilling effect on the work of parliamentary committees. 

Ms English said: "There have been messages out there about this chilling effect on parliamentary committees, which is absolutely incorrect."

In May the Supreme Court declared the actions of the PAC as unlawful in its treatment of Ms Kerins, the former chief executive of the Rehab Group.

The court said by conducting a public hearing in a manner significantly outside of its terms of reference and which also departed significantly from the terms of the invitation issued to Ms Kerins, the committee had acted unlawfully. 

The Supreme Court also noted that the issues raised in these proceedings about the conduct of Dáil committees were capable of being remedied by the Oireachtas.

Ms English was responding to Independent TD Catherine Connolly who claimed there is an "a certain hysteria going around" about the effect of the court judgment on the work of committees.

She pointed out that in the Kerins judgment, the Supreme Court asked the Oireachtas to set up a redress system that re-balances non-members' rights when they appear in front of committees. 

"The court is saying, if you put your procedures in place to give an avenue of redress for somebody who feels they have been unfairly treated in front of a committee and attach remedies for when a member or a committee acts unlawfully then you will have re-balanced the rights that you need to give to non-members," Ms English said. 

"What the court is saying that once you have that system in place, the judiciary and the courts will be giving the parliament a very wide margin of appreciation as to how you run your business.

"So it is far from a chilling effect because a number of errors occurred in that particular case in terms of remit, letter of invitation and how the hearings actually ran," she added.

Clerk of the Dáil Peter Finnegan outlined how a working group has been established to consult with all relevant parties about the Supreme Court judgment. 

Peter Finnegan speaking at PAC

Citing the example of the recent "stonewalling" of a committee by some FAI witnesses, Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells expressed fears that the new working group go too far in reining in committees. 

He said he is concerned that they would not be able to scrutinise public expenditure as thoroughly in future.

Mr Finnegan said: "I think that right across the Oireachtas people are acutely aware of the need to find the correct balance."

"This is about addressing issues that have been highlighted to us by the Supreme Court".

He pointed out that the Supreme Court has essentially told the Oireachtas that "it must respect the constitutional rights of individuals."

Mr Finnegan said the two recent Supreme Court cases, involving Denis O'Brien and Ms Kerins, have cost €485,000 to date. 

He said these are "major constitutional cases that required very senior legal teams."