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Department of Justice will be 'divided' but it will remain under one minister

The department will be internally split into two divisions with seperate deputy secretaries.

Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

THERE WILL BE an “internal divide” in the Department of Justice next year but it will remain under one minster, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Under the plans, there will still be one minister for the department, but it will be internally split into two divisions – justice and home affairs – with separate deputy secretaries.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told reporters during a round-table briefing that the intention is to proceed with the reform in 2018.

It comes after a series of controversies in the Department of Justice which have led to the resignations of ministers and secretary generals, most recently the resignation of Frances Fitzgerald following controversy around the legal strategy used against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe during the O’Higgins Commission.

Her resignation pulled the country back from the brink of a snap election in the run up to Christmas.

Following the revelations over the department’s failure to find and send on relevant documents and emails that should have gone to the Charleton Tribunal, there had been speculation that a major overhaul was on the cards.

The speculation was that the department would be split in two into clear Justice and Home Affairs portfolios, with two ministers.

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire welcomed the changes announced by the Minister today, but said that recent controversies were proof that “the culture of secrecy, silos, and undue deference” remained in the Department.

He said that he believed that the decision to split the department was intended to deal with the efficiency of the Department and the enormous workload it has.

It is not a panacea and I do not believe it will deal with the key cultural issues in the Department.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin went further than that, branding the government’s response to reform at the Department of Justice as “farcical”.

“To retain one Minister and one Secretary General makes a nonsense of their being separate departments. This a ball of smoke – existing divisions already exist within the Justice Department. Nor is this even the model adopted by Paschal Donohoe in Public Expenditure and Reform, and Finance.”

He said that a “separate department” was needed with “separate political and administrative leadership”.

“Anything else is nonsense,” he added.

Toland report 

The Toland report published in 2014 catalogued a list of failings and recommendations for the department.

The Taoiseach said he does have concerns about how the department operates given “all that has happened in the past couple of years”. Varadkar has met with the author of the report, Kevin Toland, in recent weeks to discuss the reforms.

What is proposed is not splitting up the department into two separate departments. What is proposed is an internal division so there would be one Secretary General of the department and two deputy Secretaries General of the two wings.

“It is our intention to proceed with that reform in 2018, having a new Secretary General, and two deputy Secretary Generals over the two new sections of the department,” clarified Varadkar.

The justice division would include crime, security and international policy, while home affairs would cover policing, prisons, courts and equality.

The Taoiseach acknowledged that it would be the norm in other countries, such as the UK, for Home Affairs and Justice to be separate.

However, Ireland’s Constitution presents a problem for this being done.

“We have the slight complication in Ireland that we have a Constitution which only allows us have 15 senior Cabinet ministers. So everytime you create a new government department you have to abolish one and I am not yet sure which department people would axe as they all do very important work,” he said.

Such a move would require a referendum, and the Taoiseach is of the belief that people would not vote in favour of it.

The Taoiseach said reform of the Department of Justice is ongoing.

“When you are reforming something, part of the process is people lifting up mats and looking under rugs and sometimes you see things you don’t want to see and you have to deal with them and we are going to deal with them,” he concluded.

Additional reporting by Christina Finn.

Read: Investigation launched followed drug seizure at Dublin army barracks>

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