Departing Justice boss makes an unprecedented attack on Taoiseach
THE departing secretary general of the Department of Justice fired a parting shot at TDs and the media as he retired yesterday with immediate effect.
Noel Waters’s defiant email to colleagues notably came within hours of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar making a speech in which he described the department as “dysfunctional”.
Mr Waters (pictured, inset) claimed much of the criticism voiced in the Dáil and the press had been “unwarranted” and that he expected the department to be vindicated by an external inquiry.
He had been due to retire in February, but on the same day as Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald announced her resignation, he told colleagues at the department he would instead be retiring with immediate effect.
His decision came after much criticism of the department’s failure to disclose emails to the Charleton Tribunal when it sought information earlier this year.
Mr Varadkar announced he was ordering an external inquiry into why important emails “were not found and therefore not sent on” to the tribunal. This inquiry will report before Christmas.
If the emails were deliberately withheld from the tribunal, something the department denies, it would amount to a criminal offence.
The emails revealed Ms Fitzgerald had been told about the “aggressive stance” then-Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s legal team was taking against Sergeant Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.
Mr Varadkar also said the Government was accelerating reforms already in train, and was planning “radical action to restore public confidence in the Department of Justice”.
But in his letter to colleagues, Mr Waters claimed the department had been subject to “a barrage of unwarranted criticism in recent days and most particularly today”.
“I want to assure you that, in so far as is humanly possible, this department has sought at all times to act appropriately, upholding the law and the institutions of the State,” he said.
“Many of the claims about how the department has acted that have been made in the media and in the Dáil are not true, and I am confident that the processes that the Taoiseach has announced will show that to be the case.”
Mr Waters told colleagues that although he had indicated earlier this month he intended to retire in February, he was now bringing forward his departure.
“I am doing this entirely of my own volition,” he wrote in the letter.
He told colleagues that the department makes an important contribution to Irish society, much of which goes unseen and unnoticed.
“It is important, however, that all of you know that your dedication and hard work is valued and that your individual and team efforts in the different parts of our organisation are meaningful and important,” he said.
“Please do not lose sight of your contribution to public service and continue to give of your best.”
Mr Waters was appointed in October last year, having been acting secretary general since 2014. He initially filled the role on a caretaker basis when his predecessor Brian Purcell stepped aside following a series of controversies.