Sunday 28 December 2014

Justice system officials criticised

Published 28/07/2014 | 17:29

Martin Callinan (left) and Alan Shatter both left their posts
Martin Callinan (left) and Alan Shatter both left their posts

Civil servants in charge of the country's policing and justice system have a closed, secretive and "silo driven" culture, a hard-hitting review has revealed.

The withering criticism confirmed significant leadership and management problems in the Department of Justice after repeated scandals led to the resignations of Martin Callinan as Garda Commissioner and Alan Shatter as justice minister earlier this year.

The review of how the powerful ministry operates uncovered ineffective management procedures and said it was incapable of holding key agencies to account.

It also said that relationships with the bodies it oversees tend to be informal and unstructured without strong central management.

Among the issues unearthed on this front was that the senior civil servants have a deferential relationship with An Garda Siochana.

The review stated: "The overall Departmental culture has not changed or adapted to the world in which it now operates."

The findings led to the latest sudden departure in the field of policing and justice with the Government saying that Brian Purcell, secretary general of the Department of Justice, has asked to be moved to other duties in the public service.

Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality, said Mr Purcell thought it was in the best interests that he quit.

"Given the significant recent disquiet over the administration and oversight of justice in this state, I believe this report represents another important step in this Government's justice reform programme," she said.

"Ensuring an effective Department of Justice is essential to ensuring the full delivery of broader reforms to policing and justice in Ireland."

The Minister added: "The Department of Justice and Equality must become a 21st century organisation to meet 21st century challenges.

"Leadership and management practices in place in the Department must equally be transformed to provide an effective workforce setting in which all staff can achieve their best."

The review was ordered in June on the back of a series of scandals over how policing is carried out and how it is overseen.

Mr Shatter resigned in May on the back of a report into the department's handling of Garda malpractice allegations.

The Guerin report was fiercely critical of how Garda management, civil servants and Mr Shatter responded to concerns repeatedly raised by Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe and how he was treated.

Mr Callinan had stepped down, stating he was retiring, in March after it emerged that phonecalls in and out of Garda stations at divisional headquarters were being recorded for decades.

Both men had been embroiled in increasingly bitter disputes with the Garda Ombudsman's office over allegations the watchdog had been bugged.

Ms Fitzgerald subsequently ordered the review of the department.

The report, by an independent panel of seven experts, found the culture in the Department of Justice closed and unnecessarily secretive, even taking into account the confidential nature of some of the work.

It said: "This has resulted in an inward looking organisation with limited learning capacity and reduced openness to new ideas."

The report found that this culture has held the department back from questioning and challenging and in turn learning and adapting.

It also warned that the need for secrecy in particularly sensitive areas, like Garda work, is now part of the department's DNA, to the detriment of areas that should be open.

The department was said to be stuck in the past as it "has not changed or adapted to the world in which it now operates".

The report identified serious leadership and management failures, particularly in the Garda Division of the department.

It said this led to no-one in charge of the overall issue; no plan to deal with the issues; no recognition of the serious potential impact; and an inability to see where things went wrong.

Other failings identified included inadequate record keeping of key meetings and decisions and also poor document tracking.

"The Department does not appear truly to hold agencies to account," the report stated.

In one of its most defining remarks, the review attacked government for the manner in which An Garda Siochana was reformed on the back of the Morris tribunal into corruption in the force.

It said the 2005 Garda Siochana Act was introduced in direct response to the tribunal's findings that the force was "losing its character as a disciplined force".

But it said the reforms have been diluted in implementation and the full potential has not been realised.

It found the department stepped back from the opportunity to exercise the necessary power and influence at its disposal to encourage improvements in management and discipline.

And it said more could have been done to review the reforms five years down the line.

Ms Fitzgerald expressed confidence in the civil servants in her department and said the issues were bigger than one person.

The review found additional pressure and increased work on staff and constraints on replacing senior civil servants but it praised the expertise and dedication of the employees.

The review issued several recommendations including a change in the leadership and management routines, systems and practices to underpin both the performance of the Department and key agencies.

It also called for commitment to additional skilled and specialised resources and training and a structured approach to how agencies and key relationships are managed to hold them more accountable.

"While the recommendations in this report are challenging, the evident capability and commitment of staff within the Department engenders full confidence that these recommendations can be quickly and professionally implemented," it found.

Padraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Fein justice spokesman, said one controversy is absent from the review - the outgoing secretary general's role in the resignation of Mr Callinan.

"The report unfortunately doesn't clarify what happened on the now infamous night where the then secretary general Brian Purcell was dispatched by his political masters to the house of former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan which clearly led to his resignation the next morning," he said.

"So what we have had since then is a situation where the minister himself and the secretary general have had to move aside.

"We need the Taoiseach to urgently clarify what the message delivered was that night. We want answers."

Press Association

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