Purcell correct to step down, says Fitzgerald

Decision to depart post as secretary general ‘right thing to do’

Frances Fitzgerald: “In fact, he said to me he thought it was in the best interests of the department.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Frances Fitzgerald: “In fact, he said to me he thought it was in the best interests of the department.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Tue, Jul 29, 2014, 01:09

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said Brian Purcell’s decision to step aside as secretary general of the Department of Justice was “the right thing to do” following a “hard hitting” report into the department.

Ms Fitzgerald said the report identifies “very serious management failings and areas that need to be improved” within the Department of Justice, but maintained Mr Purcell made his own decision to stand aside.

Mr Purcell, who the Government has agreed will be reassigned elsewhere in the public service, although not in the Department of Justice, “received this report and decided it was in the best interests of the department”.

“In fact, he said to me he thought it was in the best interests of the department, of my role as Minister and personally himself to take this decision,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

“I think that was an honourable decision. Having read the report that was his view and that was his decision. He felt it would be a distraction, as he said, if he stayed in place as secretary general of the Department of Justice.”

Scathing criticism

Of the report itself, Ms Fitzgerald said that while it is critical it is constructive and “maps a way forward for the department”.

However, despite its scathing criticism of “significant leadership and management problems,” the Minister said it is also “very clear about the staff in the department, about the expertise, the professionalism, the range of work the department undertakes and the ability of the department to carry out the work”.

She insisted there is “no secret deal” with Mr Purcell regarding payments or pensions, adding: “What has been said, and what the secretary general has asked for, is that he be reassigned to other duties in the public service.

“A decision has been taken by Brian Purcell, that in the best interests he would not continue as secretary general of the Department of Justice but he would ask to be reassigned and that has been accepted by Government.”

Culture of secrecy

She pointed out that the report, while critical of systems and structures, does not name any individuals. Ms Fitzgerald denied she sat on the report and said she had to give it due consideration.

She allowed those who were affected by the report within the department to see it first, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton given copies last week.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, who sits on the Cabinet subcommittee on Justice Reform, was aware of its contents last week. The rest of the Cabinet were informed yesterday.

Ms Fitzgerald said she had confidence in the remaining senior staff in the department and that some of the problems identified were not unique to it, but were evident in other departments.

There was also strong criticism of a culture of secrecy in the department and unwillingness to engage with the media. But Ms Fitzgerald said it was “understandable” how that had built up over many decades since the security of the State was the main concern.

She said she did not know why the former Garda commissioner wasn’t interviewed for the review.