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Saturday 20 September 2014

Brian Purcell to stand aside as report on Department of Justice finds 'a closed and unnecessarily secretive culture'

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

Published 28/07/2014 | 16:27

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Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has published a review which criticises "a closed and unnecessarily secretive culture" in her department.

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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 report was launched in May after barrister Sean Guerin's investigation into the garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe's allegations of garda misconduct was published.

Ms Fitzgerald said today that Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell is to stand aside in the wake of the department review.

She said Purcell has stood aside because he said it was in the best interests of the department. The justice minister described the report as hard hitting and critical, and she admitted it identified "serious management issues".

"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.

"There are very strong messages here about the changes that are needed."

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

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

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.

The minister appointed the chief executive of Dublin Airport Authority, Kevin Toland, to chair the review of the Department of Justice.

"The Review Group found the culture of the Department to be closed and unnecessarily secretive (even taking into account the important and confidential nature of some of the work)," its authors said.

"This has resulted in an inward looking organisation with limited learning capacity and reduced openness to new ideas – the Review Group found that although there has been a challenging expansion of work, the overall Departmental culture has not changed or adapted to the world in which it now operates."

The need for secrecy in particularly sensitive areas has not been restricted to those areas, the Review says.

"It permeates much of the Department’s remit and has become part of its DNA, to the detriment of other areas that should be open."

"There appears to be a significant disconnect between how the Management Advisory Committee sees the Department and how key external stakeholders and many staff see it," the review adds.

The report found a "lack of cohesive leadership and management practices in the Department - to focus sufficiently on critical priorities in core business areas, ensure delivery of business objectives, provide strong oversight or drive the performance of the Department.

It pointed to "poor political antennae for issues with serious potential impact" in the Department.

An "imbalance between Minister and Management" was also criticised in the review.

There was an intensive focus at political level on key areas of legislative reform, while the Department had many distinct critical priorities and a widening remit, which did not get adequate attention," the authors said.

A stronger and more cohesive management culture is essential to handle the breadth and depth of the Department’s business agendas, according to the Review.

"The strongly silo based culture of the Department, coupled with weak prioritisation and management oversight, have an inhibiting influence on "joined-up thinking” around core strategy, co-ordination on cross-cutting issues and policies (including interdependencies within the Department and between the Department and key agencies) and sharing of systems, data and resources in an already stretched Department, impacting not only on the Department but also on its associated agencies," the report said.

In relation to the Garda Siochana Act 2005, a major impetus for the enactment of this legislation was provided by the Morris Tribunal Report which, among its many findings, warned that “An Garda Síochána is losing its character as a disciplined force”.

"The 2005 Act has been diluted in its implementation. The Department has adopted a passive approach stepping back from taking the opportunity to exercise the necessary power and influence at its disposal to encourage improvements in management and discipline," the Review said.

"More could have been done, for example to review the operation of the Act after 5 years and, if necessary, propose amendments," it added.

The Review Group believes that there is a conflict with the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the Garda Inspectorate reporting into the Garda Division of the Department.

The Department has "very poor document tracking and IT systems that are old and are causing inefficiency", the report said.

A "programme for change" should be supported and facilitated by management resources, it added.

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