Fennelly Fallout: Department of Justice still trying to shake the legacy of its past crises

The crisis-hit Department of Justice is facing a second year with no permanent senior civil servant at its helm as candidates run scared of taking over the job.

A fresh recruitment campaign will have to be undertaken in another attempt to fill the position of secretary general which was first advertised without success last autumn.

The €176,000-a-year vacancy came about after then secretary general Brian Purcell requested a move out of the department in July last year, following publication of the Toland Report which severely criticised the running of the department.

Fennelly Fallout: Department of Justice still trying to shake the legacy of its past crises

Brian Purcell

Toland, which was commissioned by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in the wake of the various scandals that dogged the reign of her predecessor Alan Shatter, found there was a “closed, secretive, and silo- driven culture” within the department.

It said there were “significant leadership and management problems”, that relationships with key agencies were “informal and unstructured”, and management was not focused or proactive.

Much of those criticisms were echoed in the Fennelly Commission report which said: “ The events leading up to the retirement of the Garda commissioner were beset by serious information deficits and multiple failures of communication.”

The minister insisted yesterday that this was a historical view of the department which she said had undergone substantial reform since she took over last year.

Ms Fitzgerald said she had implemented changes in the way correspondence was handled by her department.

A major failing identified by Fennelly was that a letter sent on March 10 last year by then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan to Mr Purcell for Mr Shatter’s attention, intended to inform him about the Garda telephone recordings issue, was not given to the minister until after Mr Callinan had cleared his desk on March 25.

Fennelly Fallout: Department of Justice still trying to shake the legacy of its past crises

Martin Callinan

That was despite the letter stating at the very beginning that it was being written in accordance with Section 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 which places a legal obligation on the Garda commissioner to inform the minister of all significant issues.

Ms Fitzgerald told RTÉ that her department handled 1,000 pieces of correspondence each week and she could not guarantee 100% that mistakes would not be made, but she said special arrangements were in place for communications from the Garda commissioner.

“Those pieces of correspondence are now carefully tracked, managed, dealt with, implemented, brought to my attention,” she said.

She added that regular meetings were now being held within the department that did not previously take place.

But while Fennelly’s description of the department may be historic, the legacy from the pre-Fitzgerald era drags on as she has failed to entice senior talent to the job of secretary general.

The job was advertised and some candiates were assessed by the Public Appointments Service but the minister said: “Nobody was deemed to have reached the standard necessary to be secretary general.”

She continued: “When we advertised the department was in the middle of a crisis situation. That obviously impacted on the numbers and calibre of people who applied.”

Noel Waters, director of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service stepped into the breach and has been filling the role in an acting capacity. Ms Fitzgerald said he was leading the department “very effectively”.

But she said a fresh recruitment campaign would have to be undertaken soon to find a candidate to fill the key post permanently.

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