Department of Justice secretary general to step down

Noel Waters to retire in February after career that will have spanned 40 years

Noel Waters, the highest-ranking official in the justice department, will step down in February. Photograph: Eric Luke

Noel Waters, the highest-ranking official in the justice department, will step down in February. Photograph: Eric Luke


The Government has to fill another senior vacancy in the justice sector after the secretary general of the Department of Justice announced his retirement.

Noel Waters, the highest-ranking official in the department, will step down in February after notifying Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan of his intentions earlier this week.

The development means the Department of Justice will have to find a new secretary general for the second time in just over three years. It also comes after the retirement of former Garda commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan in September.

Mr Waters took over as the most senior official in the Department of Justice in October of last year, having served in the post in an acting capacity since 2014.

He succeeded Brian Purcell, who left to take up a position in the Health Service Executive following controversy over the retirement of Martin Callinan as Garda commissioner in July 2014.

“The secretary general notified the Minister formally that, as he will have shortly served for 40 years, he intends to retire in February,” a Department of Justice statement said. “This was noted as a matter of routine at [the] Government meeting.”

The process of recruiting a successor will begin while Mr Waters works out his notice period.

‘Coincidence’ of announcement

The department has insisted that Mr Waters’s decision to retire has nothing to do with recent controversies in the justice sector. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s spokesman said it was a “coincidence” the announcement came as questions were being asked about the treatment of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe at a State inquiry.

Labour TD Alan Kelly has questioned if there were contacts between Ms O’Sullivan and the Department of Justice around the time Sgt McCabe was challenged during the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation, which was examining allegations of Garda corruption.

There was controversy last year over the instructions Ms O’Sullivan gave her legal team at the O’Higgins commission, with leaked transcripts saying her lawyers were instructed to challenge Sgt McCabe’s “motivation and credibility”.

In the Dáil on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said the department had not been able to find any “record” of being in told advance of the legal strategy the former commissioner was going to pursue.


“It was told about the approach taken by the commissioner’s senior counsel but that was after the cross-examination had taken place,” he added. “The department was not in a position, after the fact, to express concerns about it or counsel against it.”

Mr Varadkar said it had been claimed there was a call to Mr Waters on the day of the cross-examination, but it could not be confirmed if that was the case.

“I think that perhaps it is not, and that the assertion may be false, but I do not want to swear to it today or until I can find out for certain,” he added.

There may well have been a telephone call from the commissioner’s office to the department on the day but this would not be unusual, Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, as minister for justice, had “no hand, act or part’’ in the Garda legal strategy in dealing with Sgt McCabe.

He said Ms Fitzgerald, to whom he had spoken, had no prior knowledge of the approach Ms O’Sullivan’s legal team pursued.