Sunday 8 December 2019

Department of Justice warned about system failings two years ago

Alan Shatter
Alan Shatter
Former secretary-general at the Department of Finance Brian Purcell. Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

DEPARTMENT of Justice officials warned of being overburdened with work two years before the meltdown that led to the resignation of Minister Alan Shatter and the departure of secretary general Brian Purcell.

Chaos in the Department of Justice is laid bare in documents obtained by Irish Independent - with staff complaining about additional responsibilities and governance problems. Staff felt senior management, headed by Mr Purcell, needed to communicate better with division heads.

And in January this year, Mr Purcell warned that "staff loyalty, commitment and dedication to work" had "largely worn thin".

The confidential documents were examined by the independent review group which found the department was "closed" and "secretive".

The files also reveal:

An unencrypted USB stick containing personal data was stolen;

A state agency under the department's aegis breached tender guidelines;

Staff could not locate the source of a massive IT blackout for a number of days;

Civil servants got bonuses for work during the EU Presidency.

In March 2012, senior staff complained about taking on additional responsibilities that posed potential "political risks" and insisted governance of the department needed to be examined. "Not only do we need to know what we are doing, we need to know and critically appraise why we are doing it," the report stated. The complaints were complied in a report following interviews with principle officers after a senior management conference.

The report found the department's management advisory committee (MAC), which was headed by Mr Purcell at the time, needed to communicate better with division heads.

Mr Purcell's failure to give Mr Shatter (inset) a critical letter from former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was one of the reasons he was forced from office.

The internal report recommended "outlining and examining" options for reviewing the "role and working procedures" of senior managers.

Civil servants said it was "unclear at times" which department was responsible for developing certain legislation and "communication processes need to be formalised".

"It was felt that the department needs to better communicate with staff on what the priorities are, what is happening and why," the report said.

It added: "While it's appreciated that the minister, secretary general, and the MAC have very busy diaries, it was suggested if times could be found for meetings with staff groups across the department that this would be well received by the staff."

The issues raised about communications and governance by officials in 2012 are remarkably similar to criticisms found by the independent review group chaired by Dublin Airport Authority chief executive Kevin Toland.

Mr Purcell stepped down from his position following the publication of Mr Toland's report in July. Yesterday, the Department said the results of the staff survey were kept under review and helped frame the "further development of staff engagement".

It said recommendations made following the survey on senior management's actions and decisions were implemented. "Processes such as this are a normal part of senior management discourse in a large organisation," it said.

Irish Independent

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