"We have the top administrative job when it comes to the justice area in a void or not filled. I believe it should be acted upon."
PAC Meeting, Nov 5 2015
Department of Justice called and examined
Mr. Noel Waters: Thank you, Chairman. Given that it is somewhat unique to have an acting Secretary General before the Committee of Public Accounts, I propose to say a few words, with the Chairman's permission, on the circumstances that have given risen to this... As members know, Mr. Brian Purcell, the former Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, moved to another area of the public service in October last year.
The Minister asked me to take on the role of acting Secretary General, and I felt it my duty to do so. I was working at the time as director general of the Department's immigration service, and I continued to do that role until the summer of this year. It was anticipated that I would be in the job for no more than a few weeks while a competition to fill the role was held in the normal way via the Public Appointments Service. For the sake of full disclosure, I advise members that I was not an applicant for the post of Secretary General at the time.
The competition did not yield a successful candidate, with no name being recommended to the Government for consideration. The Minister has publicly stated her view that this may have been a result of the controversies which had surrounded the post. In other words, there was not a huge number of people knocking on the door of the Public Appointments Service seeking to do the job... The Minister has indicated the job will be re-advertised when she considers the time is right to do so. There is nothing further I can add at this stage. I will continue to do the job for as long as I have been asked to do it.
It is important to note that the word "acting" in my title does not change the way I do the job; I do it in the same way as do all the other Secretaries General. I have no difficulty whatsoever with my colleagues in the Department. They are fully supportive of me in the role, as are colleagues in other Departments and the wider justice system. I am doing the job as if I were Secretary General of the Department. Moreover, I have been formally appointed as Accounting Officer, hence my attendance here today. I consider it important to put these matters on the record before getting into the issues the Comptroller and Auditor General has raised.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Waters indicated that the process of finding a new Secretary General will be gone through again when the "time is right". What exactly does that mean? Surely, within any Department, particularly a Department like Justice and Equality, we should seek to have the post of Secretary General filled in a permanent capacity?
Noel Waters: It is not in my gift to decide when the time is right. That is a matter for the Minister.
John Deasy: However, Mr. Waters will know the institutional history with regard to a Department like Justice and Equality. He is there long enough. Has a situation ever arisen previously where there was a lapse or gap?
Noel Waters: To my knowledge, it arose many years ago for a matter of weeks, certainly not for a prolonged period. In saying that, I emphasise that I am doing the job in all respects.
John Deasy: That is fine.
Noel Waters: I am attending Government sub-committees-----
John Deasy: I am not questioning that at all.
Noel Waters: I am doing the job.
John Deasy: However, Mr. Waters is completely in the dark in terms of when and if the appointment process will be restarted?
Noel Waters: It is a policy matter.
John Deasy: It is not a policy matter; it is purely an administrative issue for the Department of Justice and Equality.
Noel Waters: I would not put it in those terms as my being in the dark. As I said, I am happy to do the job and feel it is my duty to do it. I was working in a large area in the Department and was asked to step forward. That is what I did and still am doing. Beyond that I really cannot go, other than to say I am happy to do the job.
John Deasy: That is fair enough... Has somebody filled in for Mr. Waters in his previous role in the immigration service, or does Mr. Waters continue to perform it?
Noel Waters: I was doing it until July of this year. Following sanction from colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, a person was appointed to the role at that time.
John Deasy: The reality is that this Administration is coming to its end. Nothing will happen until after the next election. Effectively, it is a political appointee. That is really what we are talking about. We are talking about another six months.
Noel Waters: Deputy Deasy used the term "political appointee". It is a choice.
John Deasy: It is a political pick.
Noel Waters: Exactly.
John Deasy: I do not believe the position of the Clerk of the Dáil and that of the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality are comparable. I believe there is a lapse or a gap. It does not send a good signal across all of the areas of criminal justice in this country when we have the top administrative job when it comes to the justice area in a void or not filled. I believe it should be acted upon.
...There is a problem if Mr. Waters has no interest in tending for this position career-wise. This is not with regard to Mr. Waters personally, but organisationally and institutionally there is a failing. It is not on the part of the Department, but it is the most important position in the Department. Notwithstanding what Mr. Waters has just said - I agree with that - the non-filling of this position is problematic.