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Secrecy has become part of Justice Dept's DNA, damning report concludes

The report, initiated in the wake of the Guerin findings, found there was a “closed, secretive” culture in the Department.

Image: shush via Shutterstock

Updated at 6.26pm

AN INDEPENDENT REVIEW of the Department of Justice published this afternoon has found that the organisation is driven by a “closed, secretive and silo driven culture” — leading to an announcement from the ministry’s Secretary General that he is to step aside from his position.

The review, published on the justice.ie website shortly before 4.30pm, was commissioned in the wake of the Guerin Report into claims of malpractice made by garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Amongst the other top five issues highlighted by the review group were:

  • Significant leadership and management problems.
  • Ineffective management processes and structures to provide strong strategic oversight of the key agencies both to hold them accountable and to ensure their effectiveness is maximised.
  • A Management Advisory Committee (MAC) that is neither sufficiently focused on key strategic priorities that impact on the Department and its key agencies nor ensuring that emerging issues with agencies or with political consequence are identified and managed proactively.
  • Relationships with key agencies tend to be informal and unstructured without strong central management from the Department.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald asked for the review to be carried out on the 3 June — in the wake of the report into McCabe’s claims by senior counsel Sean Guerin, which ultimately cost her predecessor, Alan Shatter, his job.

Chaired by CEO of the Dublin Airport Authority, Kevin Toland, it was tasked with examining Guerin’s concerns about how the Department is run, and with assessing the effectiveness of current management structures.

‘Reassigned’

In a statement released shortly after the report’s publication, the Department said that Secretary General Brian Purcell had offered to be “reassigned” to elsewhere in the civil service.

The Minister thanked Purcell “for his contribution to the State” over the last 28 years; he has also worked as Director General of the Irish Prison Service, and was previously with the Department of Social Protection.

The six person group that carried out the review, which also included former Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole, convened seven times between early June and mid-July, and met with over internal 20 staff members from the Department.

Three interviews were carried out with Purcell as part of that process.

It also interviewed 25 additional people, and received feedback and submissions from 30 staff.

Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Brian Purcell, pictured alongside former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and former Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

Key weaknesses

In the section of its report detailing what it described as “significant weaknesses” within the Department, the review group found the culture of the Department “to be closed and unnecessarily secretive (even taking into account the important and confidential nature of some of the work)“.

It found that this had resulted in “an inward looking organisation with limited learning capacity and reduced openness to new ideas“.

…the Review Group found that although there has been a challenging expansion of work, the overall Departmental culture has not changed or adapted to the world in which it now operates.
The Department “needs to transform the way in which it does its business” according to the review.
It also found that the Department’s dealings with the Gardaí had influenced the way it handles other responsibilities…
The culture of confidentiality in the Department’s dealings with An Garda Síochána has influenced the leadership style, management practices and relationships with other agencies.
In short, it determined:
The need for secrecy in particularly sensitive areas has not been restricted to those areas. It permeates much of the Department’s remit and has become part of its DNA, to the detriment of other areas that should be open.

Management

The report identifies a raft of shortcomings in the management of the Department, including:
  • No clear ownership of issues – A lack of responsibility and accountability.
  • Ineffective systems and practices and a lack of co-ordination or planning to deal with issues as they arise.
  • Poor political antennae for issues with serious potential impact.
  • No focus on learnings or areas for improvement.

These shortcomings led to a number of serious failures recently, the report concluded, particularly in the Garda Division of the Department “regarding how briefings between the Minister and senior management were handled“.

The failings are summarised as follows:

  • No one person in charge of the overall issue.
  • No overall plan to deal with the issues as they unfolded.
  • No recognition of the serious potential impact of the issues.
  • Unable to see where things went wrong.

Communications 

There is “no coherent, structured communications strategy” within the Department of Justice, the report concluded.

In addition “the communications area is inadequately resourced” the panel found, and “there would appear to have been inadequate constructive relationships” with the media, which it says are…

vital in a world where the pace and nature of media interactions are growing exponentially.

Technology

In a conclusion which perhaps shines some light on why’s Martin Callinan’s letter to Alan Shatter about the taping of phonecalls at garda stations didn’t get to the Minister for two weeks, the report states:

  • The Department has very poor document tracking and IT systems that are old and are causing inefficiency.
  • There is a serious lack of integrated and timely data.

Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Minister Fitzgerald speaks to the media this evening.

The way forward…

The independent review makes a number of recommendations, and says the Department should start by…

…focusing on changing closed and secretive cultural model to being as open and inclusive as possible considering appropriate confidentiality…

It says a change in “leadership and management routines” needs to happen and that there needs to be a more “structured approach to how agencies and key relationships are managed” in order to hold them more accountable.

Speaking this evening, Minister Fitzgerald said she had confidence in the current staff in her department to implement the recommendations of the report.

Additional reporting Hugh O’Connell & Nicky Ryan.

Read: After refusing to back him for 80 days, Frances Fitzgerald is now looking for a new secretary general

Read our full coverage of the Guerin Report and its fallout here >

 

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