Recommendations should prompt huge Justice shake-up

Expert report revealed problems in leadership and management in department

The clear and decisive findings of the expert report into the Department of Justice have had the immediate result of prompting secretary general Brian Purcell to step aside from his post.

More importantly, the recommendations for change, allied to a strict timetable for their implementation, should prompt the biggest shake-up of the department since the State’s foundation.

The Government will be hoping the report will finally bring an end to the long-running sore of controversy surrounding the department that has done it so much damage since the start of the year.

The saga of the Garda whistleblowers’ complaints has being going on for far longer and the combined pressure of all of the issues surrounding the department, going back to the McBrearty affair, has had a debilitating impact on the justice system.

Not long after her appointment in May, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald committed the Government to implementing a comprehensive programme of change in the department following the serious failures of management detailed in the report.

Short, sharp report

To date the Minister has moved with commendable speed to sort out the problems that appear to have bedevilled the department in recent years. She established the review group on June 3rd, not long after her appointment, and it produced a short, sharp report that should provide the basis for thoroughgoing reform not only of the structures of the department but also of its prevailing culture.

One of the key findings in the report was that the department operates “a closed, secretive and silo-driven culture”.

It also identified significant leadership and management problems with ineffective management processes and structures to provide the appropriate oversight of the key agencies responsible to the department, such as the Garda.

“Relationships with key agencies tend to be informal and unstructured without strong central management from the department,” said the report.

Honourable public servant

The immediate impact of the report was to prompt the secretary general of the department, Brian Purcell, to step aside to take another role in the public service. There was some predictable media outrage that the Minister did not try and force him to retire but not only would this have been legally questionable, it would also have been very unfair to someone colleagues describe as a very decent and honourable public servant.

Since the beginning of the year Purcell has had to deal with an unprecedented series of events in a highly charged political atmosphere. Ultimately he was the victim of management practices and a culture that were in place long before he took the helm.

The report makes it clear the management failures were not confined to the individual who headed the department over the past couple of years but were embedded in the structure and culture of the organisation.

It suggested that a programme for change should be supported and facilitated by management from other parts of the Civil Service or from outside it to assist the department to migrate to “a new culture, leadership, management and operating model”. The report recommends a change in the leadership and management routines and systems as well as a structured approach to how agencies and key relationships are managed so they are more accountable.

One key recommendation is a restructuring of the department into portfolios of justice and home affairs, the former dealing with criminal and civil law reform, crime and security, the latter responsible for policing, prisons, courts, equality and integration.

It is now over to the Minister and the Government to ensure that the report’s recommendations are implemented.