Fitzgerald declines to back top civil servant at Justice

Minister for Justice withholds support from Brian Purcell until review concludes

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: said she expects the review of the Department of Justice to conclude by the summer recess. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: said she expects the review of the Department of Justice to conclude by the summer recess. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is withholding support for the most senior civil servant in her department pending a formal review of its operations following criticisms in the Guerin report.

Ms Fitzgerald said yesterday that her judgment on Department of Justice secretary general Brian Purcell must await the outcome of the review, which she expects before the summer recess.

The uncertainty over Mr Purcell’s position comes a week after the unexpected resignation of Ms Fitzgerald’s predecessor Alan Shatter following criticism in the Guerin report of his actions and those of the department.

As the Government moved yesterday to initiate an independent expert review of the department’s performance, management and administration,the Taoiseach’s spokesman made it clear Enda Kenny supports Ms Fitzgerald’s stance on Mr Purcell.

The secretary general agreed yesterday to appear before the Oireachtas justice committee on a date yet to be settled. The meeting is likely to take place early next week.

Key figure
Mr Purcell is a key figure in the administration of justice. In March he told Garda commissioner Martin Callinan of the Government’s concern regarding the disclosure of widespread covert recordings of Garda telephone traffic. Mr Callinan resigned the following morning.

Asked if she was happy for Mr Purcell to stay in her department in the wake of the Guerin report, Ms Fitzgerald said she needed objective evidence before making up her mind but said she accepted the conclusions of the report.

“Clearly the Guerin report identifies failings in the Department of Justice and what I believe is critical and what I will base my decision on in relation to that is sound advice, expert advice on the actual processes and management that has been and is in place in the Department of Justice,” she told reporters at Government Buildings.

The report last week by Seán Guerin SC into Sgt Maurice McCabe’s claims of Garda malpractice found that the response of senior gardaí to the whistelblower’s complaints was accepted “without question”.

Whistleblower ‘vindicated’
In the Dáil yesterday, Mr Kenny said Sgt McCabe was “vindicated” in the decisions he made and cited new legislation to protect whistleblowers. “So in that regard I have no problem in apologising to Sgt McCabe for the issues that he raised and for the fact that his raising these matters wasn’t dealt with more speedily in the first instance.”

The review of the department is one of several Government initiatives under way to restore public confidence in the Garda and the justice system. These include the establishment of a commission of investigation into Sgt McCabe’s complaints.

The Government will await the outcome of a separate inquiry, by former High Court judge John Cooke, into bugging claims at the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission before finalising terms of reference for the commission of investigation.

The Cabinet resolved to strengthen the GSOC’s powers. Ministers also resolved to ask the internal Garda Inspectorate to carry out a “comprehensive inquiry” into serious crime investigation, management, operational and procedural issues within the force.

This move was rejected by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. Director Mark Kelly said the Inspectorate did not have the power to conduct an independent review. “The Inspectorate is emblematic of the dead hand of ministerial control of oversight of An Garda Síochána and the idea that it is well placed to conduct a comprehensive inquiry is deeply misguided,” Mr Kelly said.