The Irish Times view on the Department of Justice: The buck stops nowhere

A high-level report found a complete lack of accountability among officials

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan needs to address the problems at his department as a matter of urgency. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan needs to address the problems at his department as a matter of urgency. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

A high level report into the Department of Justice has come up with some truly shocking conclusions which demand immediate action by the Government. The core finding is that there is a complete lack of accountability among officials in the department.

The report concluded that this lack of accountability has led to a situation where ministers, secretaries general and Garda commissioners have had to resign or retire over issues not of their own making simply because accountability cannot be found elsewhere. The report found that “it is as if the system has naturally evolved to ensure that the buck stops nowhere.” The question must arise as to whether a similar lack of accountability prevails in other Government departments.

The report recommends an overhaul of the department’s structures, splitting them into two separate divisions – one to deal with justice and equality, including the courts, asylum and law reform, and the other with policing, crime, prisons, immigration and national security. It says the department currently is burdened by its historical way of working and a view of its role that “has become constricted by years of being on the defensive and being battered by a world that it is no longer organised or equipped to navigate safely.”

The report, which was instigated after the forced resignation of Frances Fitzgerald last November, says one of the problems is that the department is struggling to keep up with the pace now required of the Minister. That has resulted in the Minister being provided with insufficient time to give due consideration to relevant information. It also found limited meaningful performance measurement within the department and the justice sector as a whole.

The report accepts the situation is not rooted in any lack of integrity, effort, expertise, operational response or commitment in the department, but rather in a lack of a resilient and nimble organisational structure, which prioritises effectiveness and speed of output and clarity of function. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan needs to address the problem as a matter of urgency.

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