Wednesday 18 September 2019

Senior Justice official retires as McCabe row rumbles on

February exit: Noel Waters
February exit: Noel Waters

Kevin Doyle and John Downing

The most senior civil servant in the Department of Justice has announced his retirement as fresh controversy about the treatment of Garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe emerged.

Noel Waters took up the position as secretary general just a year ago, having held it in an acting capacity for the two years previous.

In recent days, Labour TD Alan Kelly raised a series of questions with Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan as to the level of communication between Mr Waters and former Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.

Mr Kelly suggested officials in the Department of Justice may have been aware that Ms O'Sullivan's legal team planned to challenge Mr McCabe's "credibility and motivation" at the O'Higgins Commission.

In the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Flanagan and his predecessor Frances Fitzgerald "had no hand, act or part in, or prior knowledge of, the legal strategy being pursued by the former commissioner's legal team".

He added: "The Department of Justice and Equality is a big place with lots of different people in it but, as things stand, the department has not been able to find any record of being informed before the fact of the legal strategy the commissioner was going to pursue."

The Taoiseach did not mention that earlier in the day the Cabinet was briefed that Mr Waters wanted to retire after 40 years in the civil service.

A department spokesperson told the Irish Independent Mr Waters will "continue in post in the normal way until he retires" in February.

Government sources also categorically denied there was any link between the secretary general's decision and the mounting questions from the Opposition benches.

However, Mr Kelly said the Taoiseach's response in the Dáil was "quite unbelievable".

"It seems like the Taoiseach doesn't know whether to believe his own Department of Justice. And amazingly now not long into his tenure, the secretary general of the department is to retire," he said.

The retirement poses a major headache for Mr Flanagan as the position proved extremely difficult to fill when Brian Purcell stepped down in July 2014 following a report that identified "very serious management failings and areas that need to be improved". Several attempts to fill the job proved fruitless before Mr Waters eventually agreed to take up the post full-time in October 2016.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has indicated the hunt for a new Garda commissioner will formally get under way before Christmas.

Irish Independent

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