Cabinet agrees to review of Department of Justice operations

Frances Fitzgerald announces ‘comprehensive response’ to Guerin report

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald  brought her first memorandum as Minister for Justice to Cabinet.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald brought her first memorandum as Minister for Justice to Cabinet. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Tue, May 13, 2014, 16:01

The Government has resolved to initiate an expert review of the Department of Justice on foot of the Guerin report into Garda malpractice claims by Sgt Maurice McCabe.

In a statement this afternoon, newly-installed Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said the independent review of her Department will examine its performance, management and administration.

The review follows acute criticism of the Department in the investigation by Seán Guerin SC, which prompted the resignation last week of Ms Fitzgerald’s predecessor Alan Shatter.

While the Cabinet has not yet agreed terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation, Ms Fitzgerald said the terms will be in line with those proposed by Mr Guerin.

The Minister said the external review of the Department will be completed before the Dáil and Seanad rise for the summer recess. “I have committed to root and branch reform of the administration of justice in this country and this includes the Government Department responsible for this area.”

No mention was in her statement of Brian Purcell, secretary general of the Department. Although Mr Purcell is himself under pressure in the wake of the Guerin report, Government sources expect he will remain in his position in the immediate term.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee said this afternoon that Mr Purcell had agreed to appear before at a time to be agreed. While the Committee had sought to hear from Mr Purcell on Thursday, it is understood that the meeting might not take place until some time next week.

After briefing the Cabinet today on the Guerin report, Ms Fitzgerald also said the Garda Inspectorate will carry out a separate inquiry into the investigation of serious crime as well management, operational and procedural issues within the force.

In her statement, she noted that many of the grave issues now under debate as a result of the Guerin report were previously examined by the Morris tribunal into Garda malpractice in Co Donegal.

“This spectrum of issues is complex and deep-rooted ranging from high-level issues such as oversight, change management and the role of whistle-blowers; to local administration and internal communication; to matters of basic policing, performance and human resources,” the Minsiter said .

“It requires comprehensive and sustained corrective action. And that’s what will happen.”

In addition, the Cabinet resolved to urgently bring forward new legislation to strengthen the operationm of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Ms Fitzgerald further said that the new Independent Garda Authority will be up and running by the end of the year.

She reiterated the Government’s commitment to recruit the new Garda Commissioner by open competition in parallel with the establishment of the new inquiry.

“The Guerin Report raises many serious concerns in relation to professional standards, training, supervision of probationary Gardaí, local management of the force and many more issues,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“It is absolutely essential that we need to act on the findings of the Guerin Report in relation to basic policing and day-to-day management of the force at district level.

“With all the focus on high level matters, we must not lose sight of the need to address these basic policing matters. I am committed that we will learn and change in response to the Guerin findings and I am further committed to ensuring that the men and women of An Garda Síochána have the support they need to carry out their duties and responsibilities professionally and effectively.”

She added: “I am committed to the implementation of the reforms of police practice recommended by Guerin and I will be having further discussions with the Garda Commissioner on this matter.

“However I see the Garda Inspectorate as having an increasingly pro-active role in delivering a standards-led approach to better policing in Ireland.”