Tuesday 21 November 2017

Brian Purcell feels heat as he fails to win support of Frances Fitzgerald

Taoiseach apologises to whistleblower

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and (inset) Brian Purcell
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and (inset) Brian Purcell

John Downing, Political Correspondent

FRESH doubt surrounds the future of Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell, as the Government has again failed to express confidence in him.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald made it clear that she was "reserving judgment" on her most senior official pending the result of an expert review of how the Justice Department is run.

Both Ms Fitzgerald and the Taoiseach signalled that the departmental review would be done within weeks – with the Justice Minister insisting it must be complete by the Dail summer recess.

The developments came as it emerged that Mr Purcell has agreed to appear before the Oireachtas Justice Committee early next week.

TDs and senators want to hear from him about the events surrounding the decision of the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan to step down on March 25 among other key issues.

The departmental review is part of a series of measures announced by the Taoiseach yesterday in response to the Guerin Report.

The report severely criticised the gardai, the Justice Department and the Garda Ombudsman Commission for their handling of complaints by garda whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

The report, prepared by senior counsel Sean Guerin, also led to the resignation of Justice Minister Alan Shatter last Wednesday.

The Taoiseach also yesterday apologised to Sgt McCabe for the authorities' handling of his allegations of misconduct.

"I've no problem apologising to Sgt McCabe for the issues that he raised, and for the fact that his raising these matters wasn't dealt with more expediently in the first instance," Mr Kenny told the Dail.

Along with the department review, the Taoiseach announced:

* The Garda Inspectorate will launch an inquiry into serious crime investigations carried out by gardai.

* The Cabinet will bring forward legislation which will strengthen the powers of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission.

* An independent garda authority will be established by the end of the year and a new Garda Commissioner is to be recruited through open competition.

* He also formerly announced a Commission of Investigation into Sgt McCabe's claims of serious negligence among gardai.

Last Friday the Justice Minister pointedly failed on three occasions to declare confidence in her secretary general, Brian Purcell. Yesterday, she was again repeatedly asked the same question and said she could not answer it until she got the result of the expert review of the department.

"Any decision I make in relation to that question will be based on the objective evidence. It will be based on the responses which I get from the department in relation to what is identified in the Guerin Report." Ms Fitzgerald said.

At the same time spokespeople for both the Taoiseach and Tanaiste also declined to declare confidence in Mr Purcell.

The departmental review is expected to be carried out by some senior retired civil servant regarded as knowing the system but deemed independent.

Separately the Oireachtas Justice Committee chairman David Stanton welcomed the agreement by Mr Purcell to come before his committee as early as possible. It is understood that a hearing could begin next Tuesday.

The Justice Minister said she agreed with the Taoiseach's apology to Sgt McCabe and added that she would extend an apology to his wife and family for what they suffered. She said she hoped to have the report this week of former High Court judge, John Cooke, into alleged surveillance on the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission. Ms Fitzgerald said the Cooke Report could impact on terms of reference for the bigger commission of inquiry recommended by Mr Guerin and confirmed by government yesterday.

The Justice Minister said her own experience of aspects of the Justice Department's work were positive. But she said she took Transport Minister Leo Varadkar's comments about the Justice Department "not being fit for purpose" quite seriously, as these remarks were based on his experience.

Irish Independent

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