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Frances Fitzgerald still can't say if she has confidence in her most senior civil servant

The Justice Minister will await the outcome of an independent review into her new department before deciding on Brian Purcell who today said he will answer questions about the findings of the Guerin report before TDs and Senators.

Brian Purcell
Brian Purcell
Image: Screengrab/Oireachtas TV

Updated 6.20pm 

NEW JUSTICE MINISTER Frances Fitzgerald again declined to say today whether she is happy for Brian Purcell to remain as secretary general of the Department of Justice and Equality and whether she has confidence in him.

Fitzgerald was speaking after the government announced that an independent review of the Department’s performance, management and administration is to be undertaken in the wake of the Guerin report.

The 337-page report by the barrister Seán Guerin criticised the Department’s handling of allegations made by garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe as well as the actions of the now former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and An Garda Siochána.

Asked this evening if she was happy for the veteran civil servant Purcell to remain in his post and if he she has confidence in him, Fitzgerald said that she would base her decision on that issue on “sound advice, expert advice”.

She said it was clear that the Guerin report identifies failings in the Department of Justice.

She said: “Any decision that I make in relation to that question will be based on 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 and that is the way that I will make that decision.”

Fitzgerald also said that there are “questions obviously of natural justice which clearly would form part of any response that I make” in relation to Purcell’s future.

Oireachtas committee

Earlier, it was confirmed that Purcell has agreed to come before the Oireachtas Justice Committee to face questions over the findings of the Guerin report, published last week, on a date and time that has yet to be determined but likely to be next week. 

The report’s findings led to the resignation of Shatter last Wednesday.

He has since been replaced by Fitzgerald, who last Friday declined to explicitly express confidence in Purcell despite being asked three times.  A government source later played this down.

Speaking this evening, a government spokesperson said that it would be “appropriate” for Fitzgerald “to be afforded some time before expressing confidence – or lack of – in anybody” given she has just undertaken her new job.
Speaking earlier, Justice Committee member and Sinn Féin TD Padraig MacLochlainn told RTÉ’s News at One that Purcell would face robust questioning.

He said that even despite the findings of the Morris Tribunal in 2005 “the culture remained in the Department of Justice, and in senior levels of An Garda Síochána, that again has led us to this crisis where the public confidence in the administration of justice has been seriously undermined”.

Varadkar: ‘The Department of Justice is not fit for purpose’ >

Explainer: What is the Guerin report and why was it needed? >

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Hugh O'Connell

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