McDowell says Justice report shows ‘serious deterioration’

Former minister sees ‘alarmingly different’ picture compared with his time in office

Former tánaiste Michael McDowell said he does not know how the reported “deferential attitude” to the Garda had developed. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Former tánaiste Michael McDowell said he does not know how the reported “deferential attitude” to the Garda had developed. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

Former tánaiste Michael McDowell has said the criticisms of the Department of Justice made in an independent report paint an “alarmingly different” picture from the department he knew from his time as minister for justice.

Writing in today’s Irish Times,Mr McDowell says his first reaction on reading the report “was that there had been a very serious deterioration in the control and management of the department in recent years”.

The review group, which was chaired by Kevin Toland, the chief executive of the Dublin Airport Authority, produced its report into the Department of Justice last Monday.

Mr McDowell, who was minister for justice from June 2002 to June 2007, also sys he “can’t fathom how the department’s ‘deferential attitude’ to the Garda Síochána, as found by Toland, has developed”.

He adds: “It was not certainly there when I was minister. There was no sense in which I or the department was ‘deferential’ to the Garda.

“If the Toland report is correct and if there has developed a deferential relationship, I can only conclude that it must have been a question of personal attitudes and deliberate choice.”

The report, which led to secretary general Brian Purcell offering to be moved to another post, also said the department had a “closed, secretive” culture, as well as “significant leadership and management problems”. It recommended that it be split “into clear justice and home affairs portfolios”.

However, Mr McDowell says the “dysfunctional picture” painted in the report is “alarmingly different” from the department he knew while minister. “The report describes a ‘silo-driven’ culture, in which secrecy had ‘become part of the department’s DNA’,” he says.

Mr McDowell, who was interviewed for the report, says he learned from the review team that weekly meetings he set up, co-chaired by him as minister and the secretary general, “had completely disappeared”.

The meetings were attended by all senior civil servants in the department with responsibilities for different programmes and helped ensure “everybody in the department knew what the other divisions were doing”.