Statement by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD
on the Independent Review by Counsel of the requests for documents to the Department of Justice and Equality from the Disclosures Tribunal
Responding this afternoon to the publication of the Independent Review by Michael Collins, SC of the requests for documents from the Disclosures Tribunal, Minister Flanagan said:
I want to thank Michael Collins SC for undertaking this task, and for the comprehensive, efficient and professional way in which he carried out his review.
I welcome the publication today of the report of that review, the contents of which are accepted by my Department.
Mr. Collins states that while compliance with the Tribunal’s orders is primarily a matter for the Tribunal itself to determine, his review has identified no evidence of failure to comply with those orders.
Mr. Collins’ central conclusion is that there was no attempt by the Department of Justice and Equality to conceal information from the Tribunal in any way and that my predecessor and Department officials acted at all times in good faith and believed that they were acting reasonably in the manner in which they conducted searches for documentation.
However, I am concerned that emails of potential relevance to the Tribunal’s considerations were not located as part of the Department’s discovery process. We have taken important lessons from this episode and my Department is actively putting new measures in place that are aimed at ensuring that an oversight of this kind could not happen in future. These plans are referred to and endorsed by Mr. Collins in his report.
These new measures include the use of specialist IT consultants, where needed, for discovery and the establishment of a separate unit to interact with Tribunals and Commissions.
The Review points to the absence of a systemic system for filing emails in the Department. Like all major organisations, the dramatically increased use of email as part of officials’ work presents a file management challenge. There is a Civil-service wide initiative underway in relation to electronic file management and this will help to ensure that electronic documents, including emails, can more easily be associated with relevant files. The National Archives are actively involved in the development of this new system which I believe will be very valuable.
The publication of this review completes the measures announced in November of last year. A review of Parliamentary Questions relating to Sergeant Maurice McCabe was undertaken by my Department and published in January. A search of approximately 30 million emails was undertaken by an external IT company which ultimately resulted in the identification of only 79 additional documents of potential relevance (many of which were related to the drafting of a single statement). The review notes that this search provides an appropriate degree of confidence that the Department has identified and supplied all material of potential relevance to the Tribunal.
An independent change implementation group, (the ‘Effectiveness and Renewal Group for the Department of Justice and Equality’), has been established under the chairpersonship of Pádraig Ó Ríordáin and it is already working intensively towards delivering a first report by the end of June. My Department is engaging constructively with the Effectiveness and Renewal Group which will be asked to take account of this review and its findings in their ongoing work.
The Department of Justice and Equality deals with some of the most challenging and sensitive issues facing Ireland. As I have said before, the current structure of the Department does not support the effective management of this very broad and complex mandate. Work towards a restructuring of the Department continues with the ultimate aim of an organisation that will be better placed to manage that very difficult agenda, to the benefit of the people of Ireland. I have no doubt about the commitment and ability of the staff in the Department to deliver on its very important objectives, be it maintaining public safety, ensuring access to justice for all, or supporting an equal and inclusive society and a fair and balanced immigration and protection regime. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I intend to lead and support the Department in its reform programme and in delivering on its core public service work.