Aidan O'Driscoll, who took over the role of Secretary-General of the Department of Justice and Equality in June of last year, has been presiding over a period of transformation. Having moved over from the Department of Agriculture to fill the then-vacant role, Mr O'Driscoll seems to be adapting well to the challenge.
At the time, his appointment attracted the scrutiny of Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers, who questioned why the role had been filled without an open recruitment process. However, Minister Charlie Flanagan pointed to the unsuccessful attempts to hire a replacement in 2015 following departure of Brian Purcell from this role and as such, thought it prudent on this occasion to work in consultation with the government to identify a suitably experienced candidate from within the existing pool of civil servants.
Prior to his appointment, Mr O'Driscoll had served with distinction in a variety of different roles, including a stint at the Irish Embassy in Rome as well as his time with the Department of Agriculture - where he was assistant secretary-general from 2001 to 2015. Now, more than one year on, Mr O'Driscoll has opened up about his experience thus far in a wide-ranging interview in the June 2019 edition of The Bar Review.
The changes, which have been inspired by recommendations made by the Effectiveness and Renewal Group Report from June 2018, are largely structural in nature. The first change has been to create separate strands of competence, or 'pillars' as they are internally known, within the department - a criminal justice pillar headed by Oonagh McPhilips and a civil justice and equality pillar led by Oonagh Buckley. There are also plans afoot for a third corporate pillar, which will likely work towards transparency and the prevention of what has become known as 'white-collar crime'.
Mr O'Sullivan explains that this new function-based model will be more effective than the traditional division which was based on subject areas, commenting that the previous structure led to issues being dealt with within a very 'narrow frame'. This broader approach, according to Mr O'Sullivan, will enable the department to be more transparent, 'evidence based' and 'joined up' in terms of policy formulation and legislative output.
The increased efficiency that it is hoped will be brought about by re-structuring the department is much-needed, given that the department produces such a large amount of legislation - with 11 bills currently working their way through the Oireachtas. This, plus challenges posed by Brexit, data protection issues and the need for policing reform, all combine to make Mr O'Driscoll's job tremendously challenging. That said, he seems to be handling it in his stride. He says:
'The vision of this Department is for a safe, fair and inclusive Ireland... In reinventing the civil service for the 21st century I hope we're reinventing it in a way that engages in a new way with the political system also. That the civil service, by being the best it can be in support of our democracy, makes that democracy stronger.
Announcement: Bloomsbury Professional Ireland's annual summer sale is now on. Find our stall at the Law Library in the Distillery Building on Church Street, Dublin 7 for 25% off all of our published law and tax titles - or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. Image source: Department of Agriculture Twitter page.