New secretary-general appointed to Department of Justice

Aidan O’Driscoll is currently secretary-general at Department of Agriculture

Aidan O’Driscoll has been appointed secretary-general at the Department of Justice nine months after the position became vacant.

Aidan O’Driscoll has been appointed secretary-general at the Department of Justice nine months after the position became vacant.


A new secretary-general at the Department of Justice has been appointed without the position having been advertised.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan notified the Cabinet on Tuesday that Aidan O’Driscoll is to move to the role, which has not been filled in a full-time capacity since November.

Mr O’Driscoll is currently the secretary-general at the Department of Agriculture but will move to his new role in September.

Government sources stressed there was nothing unusual about Mr O’Driscoll occupying the position outside the normal appointments procedure, insisting it was a natural redeployment within the Civil Service.

However, Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers questioned why there was not an open recruitment process for the position and called on Mr Flanagan to clarify the decision-making process behind the appointment.

Mr Chambers wished Mr O’Driscoll well in his role and insisted this was not an issue for him to address but said the Minister had given a contradictory previous position a few weeks ago.

“When the Minister was before the Oireachtas committee on justice last month, he said the recruitment process would begin in the summer and did not indicate a break from normal procedures.

“It is unusual and requires an explanation by the Minister for Justice as to what changed his mind. A competitive process was engaged for the position of Garda Commissioner, so it should have occurred on this occasion too, ” Mr Chambers added.

Consultation process

A spokeswoman for Mr Flanagan said: “The Minister for Justice and Equality and the secretary-general to the Government engaged in a consultation process to identify an experienced secretary-general to lead the challenging transformation process in the Department of Justice and Equality.”

When the position of secretary-general at the department was advertised in 2015 after the departure of Brian Purcell, the Public Appointments Service ran the competition.

However, none of the applicants qualified for a second-round interview for the post.

Noel Watters, who was then an assistant secretary-general, took on the position on an acting basis from October 2014. In October 2016, he took on the position full time and agreed to a seven-year term. However, he stood aside last November in the midst of a political crisis over the failure of the department to send documentation to the Charleton tribunal.

Mr O’Driscoll has served in a variety of posts in the Department of Agriculture apart from secretary-general, including chief economist from 1995 to 2001 and assistant secretary-general from 2001 to January 2015.

He has worked with Irish Aid, was chairman of the Committee on World Food Security and served in the Irish Embassy in Rome.

Mr Flanagan said the incoming secretary-general had “the right blend of experience and qualifications to lead the change process in the department at this crucial time”.

The Minister added: “The secretary-general plays a vital leadership role and all of Aidan’s skills and experience will be required to ensure the successful internal restructuring of the department and an effective response to the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, due in September.”

The role had been occupied by Oonagh McPhillips in an acting capacity since late last year.

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said Mr O’Driscoll had an enormous challenge to address the cultural deficits that exist in the department. This must be his key focus when occupying the role in September, Mr O’Laoghaire added.