41. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the implementation of the Toland report and the need for comprehensive reform of his Department; his further views on whether structural and cultural reform is required in his Department; and his plans for same. (Question 51980/17 asked on 05 Dec 2017)
Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Revelations in recent weeks have raised serious questions about the Department of Justice and Equality, its culture, its fitness for purpose and the need for a structural reform that takes in, but is not limited to, the Toland report and the reforms outlined therein. Will the Minister outline how he intends to reform the Department and implement this report?
Deputy Brendan Howlin: Are we taking my question now as well?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Yes. I will take a first supplementary question, then Deputy Howlin, and then Deputies Ó Laoghaire and Howlin again. Deputy Howlin will have two questions.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 42 together.
Following the Toland review in 2014, the Department of Justice and Equality began a process of consultation and engagement to develop a delivery plan to implement the recommendations. I am informed that approximately 80% of those have since been implemented. As the Taoiseach outlined to the House last week, a change implementation group is to be appointed to assess the implementation of the Toland report and to provide continued external oversight of progress on this and any other measure that it deems appropriate. I expect the terms of reference and membership of this group to be finalised in the next week.
The Toland report recognised that one of the key strengths of the Department was the “willingness, flexibility and can-do attitude of many of its loyal staff” as well as the experience and depth of knowledge across a complex range of issues. Since my appointment as Minister, I have found the management and staff in the Department and across the justice and equality sectors to be capable, adaptable and fully committed to public service.
Change is a continuous process and, in keeping with best international practice, my Department contracted external management experts earlier this year to undertake a stock-take of progress to date and assist the Department’s management board in prioritising further reform measures for the next three years.
The Deputies will be aware that the culture of the Department has been highlighted as a key area requiring reform. I understand that, following a wide-ranging consultation with staff and external stakeholders, a culture and values charter was published in 2016 with the objective of fostering a more outward facing, listening organisational culture. These values form the core of all induction and leadership training with a view to informing the way in which the Department engages with the public, staff and stakeholders. Work is ongoing to ensure that this continues to be embedded in the organisation. A positive outcome of the response to the Toland report is an increasing engagement with internal and external stakeholders, including the justice committee of these Houses.
I have outlined my concerns to the House about the sheer scale and breadth of the Department’s responsibilities. The Toland report recognised this and called for a detailed analysis with a view towards dividing the Department. This analysis was conducted by external experts in 2016 and this year and concluded that such a restructuring should be progressed. I welcome and support this process.
I envisage that the stock-take process, which has been in train since my appointment in the summer, and the structures review will be helpful to the work of the change implementation group. I intend to support the management and all in the Department fully in completing this challenging change agenda.
As I said last week when responding to questions, I would be happy to keep the House fully informed of developments in this regard by way of progress reports or otherwise, for example, in plenary form if Deputies believe it appropriate to do so or if they feel it would be better addressed by me at the justice committee.
Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: The Toland report, published in 2014, followed much of the same kind of controversies which An Garda Síochána and the Department found themselves in at that stage. The report found there to be a closed, secretive and silo-driven culture and that there was a deferential relationship with An Garda Síochána, with a lack of proper strategic accountability being brought to bear on it by the Department. Unfortunately, the developments of recent months confirm that is still very much the case. The revelations were extraordinary.
The Minister has outlined that there are many committed staff. However, there are still issues with culture and structure, something which became apparent following the developments of recent weeks. I do not find it credible that the emails which were the source of so much controversy were not found by the scoping exercise carried out by Iarfhlaith O’Neill or the discovery order from Charleton. I find extraordinary that the email which was discovered on 9 November was only brought to the attention of the Minister on 13 November and read much later. In the context of the culture and the Department, is it acceptable that the Department allowed the Taoiseach to put the wrong information on the Dáil record three times over the course of scarcely a week?
Deputy Charles Flanagan: A process is under way, to which the Taoiseach referred earlier. An investigation is about to commence, headed by an eminent senior counsel with experience, which will deal with the issues raised by the Deputy. Further to that, a report setting out progress on the implementation of the Toland report will be furnished to the Taoiseach and, I am sure, will be available to the House.
I met with the management board in my Department on Wednesday. Where appropriate, new or revised protocols were agreed which would support my office and the management of the business of the Department, in particular the bringing of matters to my direct attention and that of my office in a way which can be regarded as appropriate and timely. There is a shared understanding of the urgent need and commitment to restore confidence across the sector, as well as an awareness of the challenges in so doing. The challenges were adverted to by Toland.
The work of the change and implementation group will involve reviewing progress and advising on the next steps needed, including communications, organisational culture and the relationship with An Garda Síochána
Deputy Brendan Howlin: The Minister will recall that the Toland group was set up by a Government of which we were both members to deal with fundamental issues of concern in the Department of Justice and Equality. I listened with some dismay to the initial response from the Minister. The five issues the independent review group first identified were a closed, secretive, silo-driven culture; significant leadership and management problems; ineffective management processes and structures; a management advisory committee which was not sufficiently focused on key strategic priorities and their impact on the Department or its key agencies; and that relationships with key agencies tended to be informal, unstructured and without strong management. In terms of findings, they are damning.
The notion that since 2014 80% of the Toland recommendations have been implemented, given what we have gone through in the past couple of weeks, beggars belief. We have had an acting Secretary General in the Department, who is a very fine person and whom I know, for much of the period since the Toland report. As the Minister knows, the person who took on the position on a full-time basis could, one could say, be described as being less than enthusiastic about applying for the job. In real terms, what can we do to bring about the fundamental structural changes set out by Toland? If we have any notion of complacency, we will fall back into our old practices.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: As I said last week, I acknowledge criticisms of a specific nature which were the subject matter of controversy. I do not believe that should cast a shadow of a dark nature over the Department of Justice and Equality.
Deputy Brendan Howlin: Does the Minister reject Toland?
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I acknowledge that there are areas where progress has been limited. It is my job to ensure that these reforms are undertaken in a way which ensures the rate of change can be accelerated. While some aspects of the recommendations relating to the structure of the Department have been addressed, such as the establishment of a corporate secretariat office to support the management of the Department, there is not yet clear division between the justice and home affairs portfolios.
While a detailed analysis of how the Department should be restructured has been completed and agreement has been reached in principle to proceed with restructuring, the practical implementation of that recommendation now needs to be prioritised. Also requiring further attention is the recommendation relating to the need to increase focus on external communications which would improve transparency around key issues. This is an area where I acknowledge there has not been the type of programme I would have liked and where a renewed level of focus is required.
On the relationship between the Department and An Garda Síochána, the Department must be structured in an appropriate way so that it can operate in a way which ensures accountability. In that regard, let me readily admit that will involve better performance standards.
Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: I welcome that the review is to be undertaken by a senior counsel, which was a welcome change on the part of the Minister and Government. It is still my view that it is difficult to credit that the emails could not have been found simply as a result of accident or error. That is why I was of the view that the tribunal should consider amending the terms of reference.
The short document released last week on the review of the Toland report dealt with some of the structural issues to which reference has been made. It moved quite quickly through some of the cultural issues, but the points in the Toland report relating to culture were quite specific. They included focusing on changing a closed and secretive cultural model to one which is as open and inclusive as possible and to define clear, specific behaviours and actions to be underpinned by a new model. A number of other similar points were made.
Does the Minister accept that as well as structural change there is a considerable need, as evidenced in recent weeks and months, for comprehensive cultural reform and change within the Department?
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I acknowledge that. It is quite clear, given the references in the Toland report to the culture of the Department, that it is a key area requiring change and reform. I am anxious to follow through and ensure that the process is completed in a way which meets the concerns of the Toland report.
Following wide-ranging consultation with staff and external stakeholders a culture and values charter was published last year, with the objective of fostering a more outward-facing and listening organisational culture within the Department of Justice and Equality. These values form the core of all induction and leadership training, with a view to informing the way in which the Department engages with the public and all stakeholders.
I want to recognise that changing the organisational culture requires a sustained effort over time. A cross-grade team, led by a former Secretary General and deputy secretary, is working to ensure that this continues to be the case and that we embed that across the organisation, with a view to ensuring that change is real and lasting.
Deputy Brendan Howlin: The Minister opened by saying he was informed that 80% of the Toland recommendations have been implemented. He concluded by saying that the Department is now outward-looking and there has been cultural change, as if the realities of the past two weeks have not happened. If that is the mindset, I despair. The Minister said all the work of reform is well under way and is, in fact, well accomplished. I was one of the people who had the privilege of having an input to the Toland report. I was interviewed in that regard to give my analysis. Does the Minister accept the recommendation that the Department of Justice and Equality be divided into a Department of home affairs and a Department of justice? If he does, when does he envisage that happening?
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I support it, but I am not in a position to put a clearly defined timeframe on it. The Deputy is aware, perhaps more than most, given his experience as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and specifically of the reform remit, that of all Departments, the Department of Justice and Equality deals with challenging matters to a degree and of size that may not be experienced by other Departments
Deputy Brendan Howlin: Yes, that is correct. There are too many such matters.
Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Department deals with matters of crime, security, policing, public safety, human rights, the reform of the criminal and civil law, asylum and refugee law and practice, the support and promotion of inclusion and equality-----
Deputy Brendan Howlin: We know all of that. What is the Minister going to do about it?
Deputy Charles Flanagan: There is also the regulation of land. I am engaging at this level to ensure the recommendations contained in the Toland report on the splitting of sections of the Department can be dealt with in a way that will ensure we will not add to the difficulties. The challenge is to manage the strategic objectives in a way that will be as effective as possible as work is ongoing. I invite Deputies to revert to this matter when there is any future opportunity to do so in the House, but it is my intention, duty and obligation as Minister to ensure every effort will be made to meet this big challenge.