Wednesday 21 August 2019

Justice in crisis: Secretary General announces immediate retirement as Minister Charlie Flanagan apologises to Dail

Justice in crisis: (L-R) Minister Charlie Flanagan, former Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald and secretary general Noel Waters
Justice in crisis: (L-R) Minister Charlie Flanagan, former Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald and secretary general Noel Waters

Shane Phelan and Kevin Doyle

Department of Justice secretary general Noel Waters has retired early – just hours after Tánaiste and former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald resigned her position.

Mr Waters had been due to retire in February, but told colleagues at the department he was bringing forward his retirement to today.

His decision came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a speech in which he was scathing of the “dysfunctional” department.

Mr Varadkar announced he was ordering an external inquiry into why important emails “were not found and therefore not sent on to the Charleton Tribunal”.

The emails revealed Ms Fitzgerald had been told about the “aggressive stance” then Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s legal team was taking against Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

Mr Varadkar also said the Government was accelerating reforms already in train and was planning “radical action to restore public confidence in the Department of Justice”.

In a letter to colleagues this evening, Mr Waters said many of the claims made about the Department of Justice in the media and in the Dáil “are not true”.

“The Department has been subject to a barrage of unwarranted criticism in recent days and most particularly today,” he said.

Secretary General of the Department of Justice & Equality Noel Waters Picture: Tom Burke
Secretary General of the Department of Justice & Equality Noel Waters Picture: Tom Burke

Mr Waters said it was a “particularly difficult time” for the department but said it was making “an important contribution to Irish society, a contribution that more often than not goes unseen and unnoticed”.

He urged staff not to “lose sight of your contribution to public service and continue to give of your best”.

The Secretary General added that “in so far as is humanly possible, this Department has sought at all times to act appropriately, upholding the law and the institutions of State”.

He concluded by noting that he was leaving the Department “entirely of my own volition”.

Read More: 'A good woman is leaving office without a full or fair hearing' - Varadkar addresses Dáil following Fitzgerald's resignation as Tanáiste

Mr Waters' resignation came shortly before Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan issued an apology to Labour TD Alan Kelly, who he alleged was engaged in a smear campaign against him.

Speaking in the Dail tonight, the under-fire minister apologised to Deputy Kelly on two counts.

He said: "First, my intemperate comments in the House on November 15t when I stated that Deputy Kelly was engaged in a smear campaign against me.

“I had been told by some people in my constituency that Deputy Kelly had made very negative comments about me in their presence,” he said.

“I always considered Deputy Kelly a good colleague both in parliament and in government and I confess that I was taken aback and offended when these allegations were made to me.

“I fully accept that I reacted badly and I apologise to Deputy Kelly and to the House and withdraw my remarks.”

Earlier in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the events of recent days “again exposed major problems within a dysfunctional Department of Justice, including the way important emails were not found and therefore not sent on to the Charleton Tribunal during discovery”.

Read More: Back from the brink: How the world's media is reporting on Ireland's political unrest

Mr Flanagan also said it wasn’t good enough that questions tabled by the Tipperary TD relating to the treatment of garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe had not been answered.

He announced an external review of the way the information was handled.

“I want to record my thanks to Deputy Kelly for his PQs which led to the unearthing of an email that had not been sent to the Tribunal.”

The minister poured blame on officials at the Department of Justice, saying it has been “a major challenge at every step to obtain complete information in a timely manner, indeed, on a few occasions recently, information has been provided to me, to the Taoiseach, and then to this House, which has proven subsequently to be inaccurate”.

More to follow...

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News