Saturday 27 December 2014

Brian Purcell apologises to garda whistleblowers

DANIEL McCONNELL, GROUP POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

Published 28/05/2014 | 17:33

Brian Purcell
Brian Purcell

THE country's top Justice Official, Brian Purcell, has apologised to Garda whistleblowers and all others affected by failings in his department.

He said the recent severe criticism of the department has damaged its reputation and standing but said much of the criticism is not well founded.

Speaking to the Oireachtas Justice Committee, he said he was bound because of two pending Commissions of Inquiry, he was unable to answer all questions facing him as to his role in the resignations of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

When called upon to explain his role in the departure of Mr Callinan's derparture by Committee chairman David Stanton, but he responded that he was precluded from answering that question.

He said the committee was acting beyond its remit by asking him to do so as it would undermine or prejudice the pending Commissions of Inquiry instigated by the Government into those scandals.

He said he is "deeply concerned" that any answer could impact on those inquiries and he reiterated he was not in a position to cooperate.

"I hope I never again am found in a position where I am less than 100 per cent open with a committee, but this is an unusual unique situation," he said.

He said the recent swathe of controversies were "unprecedented and difficult".

Referring to the failings identified by the Guerin report, he said he had no hesitation in apologising to those affected by department's shortcomings.

"It is now clear – and the Department recognises fully - that the arrangements for dealing with Garda whistleblowers did not prove fit for purpose.  Insofar as that may have involved shortcomings on the part of the Department, I have no hesitation in apologising to all those who have been affected by those shortcomings including the whistleblowers themselves," he said.

He said that current structures put a lot of reliance on the relationship between the Commissioner and the Minister and Department.  

Given the sensitive issues being dealt with, mutual trust and confidence is and has always been crucial in this relationship and this has been built up over a long period of time – not during the term of any single office holder.

He said he did not have a separate investigative set-up in the Department.

"This raises the legitimate question as to whether over a long period we could have done better in learning lessons and improving Garda accountability?  Yes, we could have," he said.

"Can I say that we have always, at all times, achieved a perfect balance in managing critical policy and operational issues across the huge range of Justice and Equality responsibilities?  No I can’t.  Do I acknowledge that the Guerin report has given rise to a grave situation which I must devote my utmost effort and attention to resolve though specific and targeted changes?  Most assuredly I do," he added.

Mr Stanton said the committee's advice said that it was allowed to ask questions into what has happened. He said committee members are "extremely concerned" as to what happened.

"We are looking for the truth, as to what happened on the night the commissioner resigned.  That is in our terms of reference. I invite you again as the truth cannot change," the chairman said.

Deputy Finian McGrath said it was not acceptable for an official to "stonewall the committee" and that Mr Purcell's statement was "disappointing".

Mr Purcell was bombarded with criticism from angry committee members who accused him of "running down the clock" by giving long winded answers to questions.

Finian McGrath said Mr Purcell's behaviour was "farcical".

Sinn Fein's Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, clearly frustrated, accused Mr Purcell of "talking down the clock" by reading from prepared scripts rather than complying with normal practice of providing succinct, brief replies to questions.

Mr Purcell said he was trying to be helpful but he had to be very careful. "Given the Inquiries, this is not a normal situation, I have to be very careful in what I say," he said.

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