Department of Justice chief steps aside as report criticises ‘silo-driven’ culture

Secretary general Brian Purcell leaves department to avoid ‘damaging distraction’

The departing secretary general of the Department of Justice, Brian Purcell, has said his decision to step aside was taken to avoid "a damaging distraction" from the important work of reform that has to be carried out.

Mr Purcell’s decision to leave his key post was taken in response to a hard-hitting report that found “a closed, secretive and silo-driven culture” at the department, with “significant leadership and management problems”.

In a letter to staff yesterday shortly before the publication of the report Mr Purcell said he was conscious that against the background of various controversies that have arisen the report would inevitably lead to renewed speculation about his position in the department.

“Although I would be quite prepared to deal with that, I believe that having continually to defend my position would prove a damaging distraction from the important work which has to be done,” he said.


He said that could have placed the department and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald in an invidious position and interfered with both the change programme that was necessary and the important reforms already in hand.

“The work we do, serving the Irish people, is far too important for that. So I have come to the painful, but, I believe, necessary conclusion that in the circumstances which have arisen it would be best if I were to be reassigned to other duties in the public service. In the interim, I will continue in office until a new secretary general can be appointed,” he said.

“It will be with great sadness that I will leave a department in which I have been proud to serve for 23 years and privileged to hold leadership positions for the past 10 years.”

Programme for change

Ms Fitzgerald committed herself to implementing a comprehensive programme for change at the department as recommended by the report.

She said this would involve strengthening both the leadership and management practices in the department and the oversight of external agencies.

One of the major criticisms of the department in the report was that relationships with key agencies such as the Garda “tended to be informal and unstructured without strong central management from the department”.

It added: "In the view of the review group there is a deferential relationship with An Garda Síochána with a lack of proper strategic accountability being brought to bear upon them by the Government."

One of the key problems identified by the report was the culture of secrecy in the department. It said that while there was a need for secrecy in particularly sensitive areas it had not been restricted to these.

“It permeates much of the department’s remit and has become part of its DNA to the detriment of other areas that should be open,” it said.

In relation to recent events the report says that on a number of occasions there were serious leadership and management failures, particularly in the Garda division within the department.

The Minister described the key findings of the report as serious and committed the Government to implementing them and to proceeding with the open recruitment of a new secretary general who would play a pivotal role in managing and embedding the recommendations of the report in the workings of the department.”

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins said last night that the report showed how dysfunctional the department had become.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times