Department of Justice to be broken into two sections

The Taoiseach says he still has "serious concerns" over the department

Department of Justice to be broken into two sections

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the third Plenary Session in the Royal Hospital Kilmainhim of the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dublin | Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The Taoiseach has said he still has serious concerns about the Department of Justice in the wake of the whistleblower scandal.

Leo Varadkar said that “given all that has happened in the past couple of years” it is difficult not to have concerns over the department.

However, noting the recently enacted Domestic Violence Bill 2017, he stressed that he believes there are “lots of really good people” working in the department.

He said ongoing reform will see the department split into two sections in 2018.

The sections will deal with security and policing separately – however both will remain under the stewardship of one Government Minister and one secretary general.

Each section will have its own bespoke deputy secretary general.

There had been speculation the Department may be split into two completely separate departments - as is the norm in many countries - however Mr Varadkar said there are complications with that strategy:

“There is a Department of Justice and a Department of Home Affairs for example in the UK and that would be quite normal in other countries,” he said.

“We have the slight complication in Ireland of course of having a constitution that allows us only to have 15 senior Cabinet Ministers,” he said.

“So every time you create a new Government Department, you have to abolish one and I am not yet sure which department people would like me to axe because they all do a very important job.

The planned reform is in response to the recent crises surrounding the Department in relation to garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

The scandals came to a head in early December with the resignation of the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

Mr Varadkar said there will be serious reform in 2018:

“Part of the reason perhaps why some of the revelations have emerged in relation to the gardaí are because of reforms,” he said.

“Because we brought in the Protected Disclosure legislation protecting whistleblowers; because we brought in the garda authority; because we brought in more civilians in to senior positions within the gardaí.

“And when you are reforming something, part of that reform process is people lifting up mats and looking under rugs and sometime s you see things that you don’t want to see but you have to deal with them and we are going to deal with them.”

He said that “a good chunk” of the recommendations included in the Toland report on reforming the department have been implemented, although he admitted there is more to be done.

The report recommended radical reform of the department to ensure greater transparency and openness.