Tuesday 10 December 2019

Low-key civil servant who took bullet from 'The General'

Brian Purcell
Brian Purcell
Brian Purcell
'The General' Martin Cahill

BRIAN Purcell is to remain in the civil service despite his decision to step aside as secretary general of the Department of Justice.

In a letter circulated to colleagues, he said the Independent Review Group report on the department had identified flaws and failings.

He said the department needed to change how it functions "to cope with a complex and fast changing world".

Mr Purcell said that he was aware the report would give rise to renewed speculation about his position – and hinted that he did not agree with all of its findings.

While he was prepared to deal with such speculation, he said it would "prove a damaging distraction" and would have placed the department and Minister Frances Fitzgerald in an "invidious position".


"So I have come to the painful, but, I believe, necessary conclusion that in the circumstances which have arisen it would be best if I were to be reassigned to other duties in the public service," he said.

Mr Purcell, who has been with the department for 23 years, will remain in place until a replacement is appointed.

It is not known where he will be moved to.

He has been the department's secretary general for the past three years. Prior to that, he headed up the Prison Service for a decade.

In securing the top job at the department, Mr Purcell followed the same career path as his immediate predecessor, Sean Aylward, who also had a stint in charge of the Prison Service.

His tenure was regarded as low key and he was rarely in the headlines prior to the resignation earlier this year of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Mr Purcell visited Mr Callinan at his home at the behest of Taoiseach Enda Kenny the night before the commissioner resigned.

It remains unclear what was said at the meeting – and Mr Purcell has refused to answer questions on the issue.

The sequence of events leading up Mr Callinan's departure is being investigated by retired Supreme Court Judge Nial Fennelly.

Prior to joining the Department of Justice, Mr Purcell had been a higher executive officer in the Department of Social Welfare.

It was during this time he encountered the notorious Dublin criminal Martin 'The General' Cahill, who shot him twice in the legs.

In keeping with his low key approach, it is an episode Mr Purcell has rarely discussed.

At the time it was part of his duties was to deal with welfare payments.He took the brave step of stopping the weekly dole payments of £92 that Cahill had been receiving.

Cahill's gang later abducted Mr Purcell from his Dublin home, drove him away in the family car and brought him to Cahill, who shot him.

His wife was tied up during the ordeal.

While recovering in hospital, Mr Purcell received an anonymous get-well card, which stated: "The General prognosis is good."

Irish Independent

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