ANN CAHILL: Brian Purcell: A loyal servant takes rap for litany of controversies

Brian Purcell wrote to his staff in the Department of Justice telling them that he was standing aside before that information became public.

A most loyal public servant, who despite being placed in a most difficult position by his political masters, he concluded his letter offering Minister Frances Fitzgerald his very best wishes for the future.

That effectively brought to an end a career of 23 years in which he held some of the most senior positions in the civil service including director general of the prison service and secretary general of justice for the past three years.

The 56-year-old Dubliner could not be accused of being a coward.

He faced hostile members of the Oireachtas two months ago where he was vilified for refusing to reveal what Taoiseach Enda Kenny asked him to tell the then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, on that fateful evening when he was sent to his home.

Almost two decades ago Purcell was the official in the Department of Social Welfare brave enough to cut the gangster Martin Cahill’s dole of £92 a week.

A short time later four hooded thugs sent by “The General” Cahill broke into his home, tied up his pregnant wife, drove him away in the boot of his car to the railway line in Sandymount, where, according to Paul Reynolds’ biography of the notorious criminal, Cahill shot him in the legs.

Luckily, he recovered and went on to become the head of the Prison Service where he was credited with cutting the huge overtime bills.

He also put pressure on the department to replace prisons condemned by human rights bodies.

He was the somewhat surprise choice of the Top Level Appointments Commission made up of former senior civil servants to succeed Sean Aylward as secretary general of Justice in July 2011.

Since taking up the position he has been assailed by more controversies surrounding the department and its right arm, the Garda, than possibly any other person in the job.

The consensus among those who knew him was that he was “too nice for the job”.

Some believe he was kept in his position waiting for this day to arrive when the report would land on the minister’s desk, and action, in the form of a scalp, would be required.


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