A catalyst for widespread rejuvenation - Justice Department report

It may have taken the bones of four years but, at long, long last, the kind of purge needed to bring real change to a section of our public life, change promised before the 2011 election, seems to have begun or at very least been put in train.

An agenda has been set and a firm short-term timetable put in place. The issue now is delivery and it would be surprising if that was not the most difficult part of the process.
 
Fiefdoms and privilege will be challenged, comfort zones invaded and a deeply-rooted culture of secrecy and non-delivery confronted. Or, and as ever here’s the rub, at least we have been assured that they will.
 
However, there seems a calm steeliness and focus to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald that makes it possible to be optimistic that real, positive change might be just over the horizon. The decision to set dates for change will make this a transparent project and failure all the more obvious and inexcusable.
 
The fact the minister can expect the support of a younger and less exhausted cabinet also augers well — especially as what promises to be a pretty difficult election for the Coalition moves ever closer.
 
The speedy decision by secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, to quit his position on publication of the expert report into the department strikes the right chord even if Mr Purcell inherited a culture, a way of doing things that is not fit for purpose.
 
He may not have put it in place but it seems that he, by and large, accepted it and was not moved to instigate the kind of reawakening, the kind of shake-up so long overdue.
 
However, the failings uncovered — “an inward-looking organisation with limited learning capacity and reduced openness to new ideals”; a culture that is “closed and unnecessarily secretive”; “management oversight is weak”, leading to a “lack of oversight and accountability” when dealing with outside agencies — are so profound, so very counter productive to the idea of an open, functioning society and frankly, amateur, that he had little choice.
 
Mr Purcell may be tempted, in private at least, to suggest that nearly every government department and many state and semi-state agencies could be so described but he might be wise to temper that analysis with the fact that, had he been employed in the private sector, he would now be unemployed and looking for a job rather than awaiting transfer to another high-level, high-reward mandarin position.
 
His honourable decision was made easier by the prospect of a relatively soft landing, one with little more than bruised pride and many, many others in a similar position might envy.
 
So much as happened in the Department of Justice/An Garda Siochána saga that it is important to recall that the dramatic, establishment-rocking events — including a ministerial resignation and an a change of garda commissioner — have their genesis in a simple but irrefutable fact: the refusal by one man, one citizen, garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, to be cowed or silenced despite persistent stonewalling by people who should have behaved in a very different, far more impressive way.
 
Sgt McCabe has earned our gratitude in many ways, not least of which was for exposing a system so introverted and self-focussed that its primary objectives — the administration of justice and the protection of all citizens — became almost secondary.
 
The needs of the future now assume far more importance than parsing the mistakes of the past and if that can be the focus there is no reason that the remaking of the Department of Justice, the reassertion of its responsibility to better manage outside agencies cannot be achieved in a way that might become a template for other departments, especially as the idea of not making these changes is far too grim to contemplate.
 
In reality this initiative is about far more than what the Department of Justice might become , it is about what all government departments and services must become.

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