The installation of Drew Harris to the position of Garda Commissioner in the South this week is not something to be overlooked. A police officer, who comes from a traditional unionist background, now takes the most senior post in policing on the island of Ireland.
In 1989 Drew Harris’ father Alwyn was killed by the IRA in a bombing which also injured his mother. Superintendent Alwyn Harris had been responsible for the removal from duty of six members of the Royal Marines who had been accused of harassing a Catholic mother of three. Father Denis Faul, who had passed on the complaints, said Harris was “exactly the kind of officer on whom a trustworthy police force could be built”. Harris being of Northern stock, however, is not the issue that causes most attention.
Anyone who doubts the very close and common agenda of the Garda, and the RUC, then the PSNI, doesn’t understand policing on this island.
Drew Harris was part of the “transition” from RUC to PSNI. Intelligence policing was always his focus. Having headed up the PSNI’s reformed version of Special Branch, C3, replacing former RUC Special Branch head Sam Kincaid, he is known to have exceptionally close links to MI5.
During the course of the Roseann Mallon inquest, court access to security documents, information about agents active in Mid-Ulster at the time and contemporaneous military observation materials, was contested by the PSNI. It emerged that at that time the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association had been holding Legacy Inquest Seminars, for their members. These seminars, advertised on the NIRPOA website, were not delivered by solicitors but rather by then ACC Drew Harris, along with DCC Judith Gillespie. The duo advised on the type of evidence and cooperation that might be given by former RUC officers, which would secure the “good reputation” of the RUC, while simultaneously the PSNI was consistently criticised in the courts for failing to comply with orders to provide information to the courts regarding the same killings. What we do not know is if these “advice” workshops continue.
There have been long standing concerns that the current approach by the PSNI to the rights of families to truth and justice is an intelligence-led policy of delay, and denial. All of those roads of concern have led to the door of Drew Harris.
An Garda will soon be facing the additional challenges of the legacy mechanisms to deal with the past requesting information and full cooperation. The track record of the Gardaí in like matters is not encouraging. There are many families in this community whose loved ones were killed in the South or on the border who will say the Gardaí were as bad/worse than the RUC. Which is a brutal indictment.
The Gardaí are under unprecedented pressure regarding allegations of corruption. Such is the level of scandal two ministers for justice have been forced to resign and two garda commissioners have stood down. The reform of the Garda will be very near the top of any Irish government’s agenda. The government will be concerned to defend their new Commissioner and to make it a “success”.
Many of us look to the Irish government for support in strengthening the calls for human rights compliance from the British Government. Persuading them to step up to the mark, can often be problematic. This appointment may well make that task all the harder.