Frances Fitzgerald: Culture of secrecy understandable

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has defended the culture of secrecy that existed at her department for decades but says it must now be made "fit for purpose".

Following the publication of a damning independent review of the Department of Justice, she said that no “secret deal” was done with the head of the department, Brian Purcell, who has now resigned but will be reassigned elsewhere in the public service.

The review recommends restructuring the department into separate justice and home affairs portfolios. It was ordered after a series of criticisms on how the department operated following a separate examination on garda malpractice claims by barrister Sean Guerin. It says that justice has a “closed, secretive and silo driven culture”, that there are significant leadership and management problems and “no clear ownership of issues”.

Mr Purcell has handed in his resignation saying his position would be a distraction and delay work that needs to be done at the department.

Ms Fitzgerald yesterday said the report did not name any individual.

“What the secretary general has asked for is that he is reassigned for other duties in the public service and that is what is going to happen.

“I believe it was the right thing for him to do. When he read the report, he decided this.”

She said the department had to be “fit for purpose” and changes were needed in how it is managed.

The report was given to Ms Fitzgerald by the review group two weeks ago. She said time was given for officials to consider it and it was given to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste last Tuesday.

Mr Purcell would still be expected, she said, to give evidence to the Fennelly inquiry, which is examining recordings of calls to Garda stations and the resignation of the garda commissioner.

But Ms Fitzgerald also said she understood why there had been a culture of secrecy at the department for years, as found in the review.

“I think it’s understandable in many ways that secret culture that has evolved over the decades. If you think of the role of the department in protecting the security of the state, if you reflect on the role of ministers for justice and the pressures they’ve been under for decades.”

She hoped to address recommendations in the report about the department improving relations with the media.

Ms Fitzgerald defended the 2,000 staff and said that she had confidence in her remaining senior officials. She also said that every department should have this type of review.


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