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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Secretive and closed: damning verdict on Justice department

Purcell stands aside as report finds deferential relationship with gardai

Fionnan Sheahan, Shane Phelan and Dearbhail McDonald

Published 29/07/2014 | 02:30

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Brian Purcell
Brian Purcell

The Department of Justice is to be divided in two following a damning report which slammed its "closed secretive culture" and "leadership and management problems".

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The review, undertaken in the wake of a series of scandals, found the dysfunctional department has a "deferential relationship" with An Garda Siochana and highlighted a lack of proper accountability.

On foot of the report, secretary general Brian Purcell, who played a pivotal role in the resignation of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, has stood aside from his position.

But he is not resigning and will now take up a post elsewhere in the public service.

Mr Purcell said that to stay in his position would have placed the department and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in "an invidious position".

Ms Fitzgerald said Mr Purcell's departure from the post was the right thing to do.

The review, carried out by a six-strong high-level group which included a former Attorney General and an ex-chief of police, also identifies "serious leadership and management failures".

The minister had come under pressure to publish the review which she received 17 days ago.

A key recommendation is that the department she has been heading for just two months be restructured into separate Justice and Home Affairs portfolios.

The Justice area will include civil and criminal law reform, crime and security, and international policy.

Home Affairs will include policing, prisons, courts, equality and integration.

"Arrange for the appointment of a Deputy Secretary General to lead and take responsibility for the Home Affairs portfolio," the report said. Despite the recommended division of responsibilities, one minister would remain in charge.

The review was carried out by a group of senior management figures from a number of organisations chaired by Dublin Airport Authority chief Kevin Toland.

Their report doesn't specifically refer to the garda scandals, the management of the whistleblower affair or the taping fiasco but it does cite "recent events" and says there were "serious leadership and management failures" in the Garda Division in the department and senior management "regarding how briefings between the minister and senior management were handled".

The failings included no single person being in charge of the overall issues, no overall plan to deal with the issues as they unfolded, no recognition of the serious potential impact of the issues, and an inability to see where things go wrong.

Staff

The review group highlighted an "unnecessarily secretive" culture, even taking into account the confidential nature of some of its work.

"The need for secrecy in particularly sensitive areas has not been restricted to those areas. 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."

The report pointed to "significant" leadership and management problems.

The independent panel of outside experts said there was a lack of clear responsibility and accountability, "both within the department and when dealing with external agencies and stakeholders".

The departing secretary general strongly hinted he did not agree with all of the findings of the Independent Review Group.

In a letter to colleagues at the department announcing he would be moving to a new role in the civil service, Mr Purcell said "it is inevitable that a report of this nature contains some conclusions with which issue could be taken". However, he added: "I accept that the recommendations it contains form a clear basis for the department to move forward," he said.

Meanwhile, the Justice Minister said Mr Purcell's decision was the "right thing to do".

Tribute

She paid tribute to Mr Purcell's record in the Department of Justice and in the public service, pointing to him being "shot" – a reference to an attack by the notorious Dublin gangster Martin 'The General' Cahill.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Joan Burton and Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin were given copies of the Toland Review last week.

Ms Fitzgerald held an incorporeal cabinet meeting to approve the response to the report. She said she had to ensure due process and take legal advice on how to handle the contents.

The minister acknowledged that the report was "hard-hitting and critical".

"It's a very critical report but it's a constructive report and it maps a way forward for the department," she said.

The report is very clear about the staff in the department, about the expertise, the professionalism, the range of work the department undertakes and the ability of the department to carry out the work of the department."

But Fianna Fail said the damning report on the department highlights the dysfunction in administration of justice.

The party's justice spokesman, Niall Collins, said there needed to be significant personnel changes within the department.

"Unfortunately this report cannot be looked at in isolation, we have already seen the Cooke Report and Guerin Report, which led to the Fennelly Inquiry. All these were established as a result of mismanagement within the department," Mr Collins added.

Irish Independent

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