Justice department criticised over appointment of new secretary-general

Labour’s Alan Kelly says lack of transparency disappointing in light of controversies

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

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

 

The Department of Justice has been criticised for appointing a new secretary-general without following due process.

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 on a full-time basis since November.

At the launch of the Public Accounts Committee’s latest report, Labour TD Alan Kelly said the role had never been advertised and the lack of transparency was disappointing given recent Garda and justice controversies.

“It doesn’t tell me that there has been massive institutional change,” he said. “Has anything been learnt? Is there going to be change in a department, which the Taoiseach described as totally dysfunctional?”

“I don’t believe what I’ve seen in the last 24 hours would show that there is,” Mr Kelly said.

Since the departure of former secretary-general Brian Purcell in 2014 on foot of a hard-hitting report criticising the department’s “secretive, silo-driven culture”, it has struggled to fill the role. After an initial recruitment process failed to deliver a suitable candidate, Noel Watters, the then assistant secretary-general, took on the position on an acting basis before being appointed full time in 2016.

However, he retired last November in the midst of a political crisis over the failure of the department to send documentation to the Charleton tribunal.

On the new appointment, a department spokesman said it was not uncommon for civil servants to be transferred or reassigned to undertake new duties. “In this case, Minister Flanagan and the secretary-general to the Government engaged in a consultation process to identify a secretary-general with the necessary experience and expertise to lead the challenging transformation process in the department as set out in the first report of the effectiveness and renewal group,” he said.

In its third periodic report, which focuses on meetings held between January and May this year, the committee noted that an independent review group set up after the resignation of the former minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald late last year had offered to review the implementation of recommendations in a previous report butthat this offer had not been availed of.

“The group was ideally placed to monitor the recommendations and provide advice and assistance in their implementation, and the offer should have been availed of,” the committee said.

The report also highlighted the €3.89 million of public funds lost on the lease of a building in Wolfe Tone Street, Dublin that was to have been occupied by the Chief State Solicitor’s office.

When asked to provide detail on its role, Chief State Solicitor cited legal professional privilege to the committee which prevented PAC from scrutinising the matter, the report said.