Need for secrecy part of Justice Department’s DNA, report finds

The Department of Justice is closed and secretive and requires "fundamental and sustained organisational and cultural change", a high-level report has concluded.

An independent review group said there was “a lack of cohesive leadership and management practices” in the Department.

It said the need for secrecy had permeated the Department so much so that it was “part of its DNA”.

Among the top issues it found were:

- A closed, secretive and silo-driven culture;

- Significant leadership and management problems;

- Ineffective management processes and structures to hold agencies to account.

The review — set up by the Government following the Guerin report into the handling of Sergeant Maurice McCabe’s allegations — said there were a number of core strengths in the department.

These included professionalism, competence, a high sense of loyalty, experience, and a hard work ethic. It said the Department had been stretched by an increasing work load and significant staff reductions. However, the six-person group — led by David Byrne, SC, and former attorney general — said there were significant weaknesses.

It said it found “the culture to be closed and unnecessarily secretive”, even taking into account the sensitive work that it did. “This has resulted in an inward-looking organisation with limited learning capacity and reduced openness to new ideas,” it said. It summarised the management problems as: No clear ownership of issues; ineffective systems and practices; poor political antennae; and no focus on learning.

Commenting on recent events — namely the Guerin report — it said there had been “serious leadership and management failures”, particularly in the department’s Garda Division. It said this included senior management in the department “regarding how briefings between the minister and senior management were handled”. This appears to make reference to the failure by Department officials to formally brief former minister Alan Shatter about a key letter sent by ex-Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

The review, conducted within five weeks, said the management failings could be summarised as:

- No one person was in charge of the overall issue;

- No overall plan was in place to deal with issues as they unfolded;

- No recognition of serious potential impact of the issues;

- Unable to see where things went wrong.

It said the group had “not seen evidence” of any internal review of these events.

It said management oversight of agencies was “weak”, saying there had been a “proliferation” of them.

It added: “There is a deferential relationship with An Garda Síochána with a lack of proper strategic accountability being brought to bear upon them by the department.”

It said there was a “significant disconnect” between the Management Advisory Committee and the Department.

Main points 

The Guerin report recommendations:

- A “Programme for Change” led by senior civil servants from other departments or from outside to change the closed and secretive culture in the department.

- Strengthen the leadership and restructure the department into clear Justice and Home Affairs portfolios.

- Appoint a deputy secretary general to take responsibility for Home Affairs, which would include policing, prisons, courts, equality and integration.

- Minister to set out programme and goals to the implemented by the department.

- Clear definition of relationship between the department and agencies.

- Significantly improve relationship with An Garda Síochána which would also address their “shared culture of secrecy”.

- Greater value placed on Garda Inspectorate.

- The Garda Ombudsman to report to the Garda Authority and to have a lawyer or judge with prosecutorial experience in its leadership.

- The department’s secretary general to take a leadership role in defining how issues should be dealt with by the Garda Authority.

- A corporate secretariat office in the department which, among other things, would enure all relevant documentation is given to the minister.

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