Frances Fitzgerald, on taking up office as minister, on June 3 2014, commissioned an ‘Independent Review Group’ to comprehensively review ‘the performance, management, and administration’ of the Department of Justice and Equality. The report of the group of 5 was published 27 July 2014. It contains little of interest to the student of our administrative system. It is the same old story, told of the Department of Health in the Travers report  and of the Department of Finance in the Wright report . The department, it seems, operates as a conglomeration of ‘simple structures’ [Litton 2006]. Senior management (the MAC) do not combine to provide the strategic perspective and oversight that is supposed to be their role.
The Celtic Tiger is dead. Who is to blame and to what degree? The interrogation goes beyond the action of individuals to question the performance of institutions. In what follows, I consider the role of the civil service. While official enquiries have regularly questioned its organizational capacities, the catastrophe has, inevitably, focussed attention on the actions of civil servants. Did they know of the looming dangers? If not, why not? If they did, did they advise their ministers accordingly? If not, why not? What was their understanding of their role and to what extend did it inhibit or encourage them to know and inform? The evidence (scarce enough) suggests that both structural weaknesses and cultural inhibitions prevented them forming and offering the advice that could have reduced the damage. The trusted ‘lookouts’ neither saw clearly enough, nor reported boldly enough what they did discern to the ‘captain’ on the bridge.
This essay attempts to explain why this was so.