Wednesday 22 November 2017

Brian Purcell set to be third victim of justice fiasco

Brian Purcell, Secretary General of the Department of Justice. Photo: Tom Burke
Brian Purcell, Secretary General of the Department of Justice. Photo: Tom Burke
Eamon Gilmore at Labour's James Connolly commemoration in Arbour Hill yesterday. Photo: El Keegan
Niamh Connolly, great-great-granddaughter of James Connolly addresses the Labour Party's annual commemoration in Arbour Hill. Photo: El Keegan

Daniel McConnell Political Correspondent

THE country's most senior justice official is under increasing pressure to quit his post over the department's failure to properly address allegations of malpractice within An Garda Siochana.

Brian Purcell, Secretary General of the Department of Justice, is under fire after the department was branded "not fit for purpose" by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar.

The Irish Independent understands that the Government is poised to begin a major clearout and overhaul of the department amid the fallout from the damning Guerin Report.

The Garda Ombudsman and the force also remain under intense scrutiny after a series of failures left damaging corruption claims inadequately investigated.

The report triggered the resignation of Alan Shatter as Justice Minister, while Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan had already departed in March.

But Mr Purcell's own position is now in jeopardy after new Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald failed to back him and Mr Varadkar openly criticised the way the Department of Justice operated.

Of most concern to ministers is that the department did not challenge the advice it received from gardai, and key officials appeared to fail to brief Mr Shatter properly when he was minister.

Mr Varadkar said: "Alan Shatter, one of the brightest and one of the most capable people in Irish politics, accepted that the former garda commissioner was telling him the truth, and he trusted his officials to brief him properly – and that didn't happen."

He went even further in saying that a significant and a sweeping overhaul of the Department of Justice was urgently required.

"It is pretty clear that the Department of Justice is not fit for purpose. I think big changes are going to be required there," he said.

Mr Purcell (56) was previously director general of the Irish Prison Service and has long been seen as a professional and competent civil servant.

But two more Cabinet ministers spoke to the Irish Independent last night, adding that they felt Mr Purcell's position had become untenable given the criticisms of the department in the Guerin Report.

"If Shatter had to go over this, then given what is in Guerin, then clearly changes have to happen within the department – and that means all the way to the top," said one minister.

Another source said Mr Purcell's position was being openly questioned and avenues of departure were being examined – although nothing had been decided yet.

"Everything must change from the top to the bottom of the department, given the criticisms of Guerin," he said.

"How that change will happen is now up for discussion."

A Justice spokeswoman confirmed that "initial discussions have taken place" between the Departments of Justice and An Taoiseach about how allegations would be handled in future.

She said that new Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald "views with the upmost gravity the concerns raised by Mr Guerin about procedures for dealing with complaints in her department, and has said that she intends to ensure that issues raised are dealt with comprehensively and robustly."

She said Ms Fitzgerald won't make further public comment without having "comprehensive discussions within the department on the implications of the Guerin Report on the range of issues which arise within it".

The Justice crisis is not confined to the department itself, with members of both Fine Gael and Labour publicly criticising the Garda and oversight body GSOC.

Mr Varadkar said An Garda Siochana was "in crisis" and that he is deeply shocked by the recent wave of allegations.

"There is no doubt about that and public confidence in the gardai has been very badly damaged," he said. He branded GSOC a "toothless dog if ever there was one – they accept that themselves".

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also said he had serious concerns with the various oversight bodies over the garda force.

Speaking at a Commemoration event at Arbour Hill, Mr Gilmore outlined his serious "concerns" at the continued stream of claims of garda malpractice.

"The problem we have seen is the consequence of not dealing with allegations quickly and allowing them to drift over a long period of time," he added.

Mr Guerin's 337-page report, published last Friday, found that serious allegations made by garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe were inadequately addressed

Last night, speaking to the Irish Independent about the future of Mr Purcell's position, Mr Varadkar said: "That is a matter for Minister Fitzgerald.

"She is entitled to a bit of time to get her feet under the table and review all the facts."

Mr Varadkar again expressed his belief that Sgt McCabe was a "distinguished officer of the force".

And he said that he and the Government were fully aware of the problems the force faced, and that major reforms were coming. "We do get this. We do realise there is a big problem here and we are dealing with it," he said.

Irish Independent

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