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Why is Drew Harris so unloved? A tough week for the Garda Commissioner

Some Garda members say ‘his management style gets up people’s noses’, with others claiming Harris was ‘dismissive of’ complaints brought forward

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provisiono

Why is Drew Harris so unloved by rank-and-file gardaí?

Last Wednesday afternoon Garda Commissioner Drew Harris looked shook, maybe even upset. Just a few hours had passed since the Garda Representative Association (GRA) – which represents rank-and-file gardaí – had released the results of a ballot of its members. It asked them one simple question: Do you have confidence in the Garda Commissioner? Some 98.7 per cent voted “no confidence”.

There were 10,803 ballot papers issued; 9,013 gardaí voting “no confidence” and just 116 registering their “confidence” in Harris. The turnout of 84 per cent was a record for the GRA.

A big vote of no confidence was expected, so the result was no surprise. But the sheer scale of the majority against him clearly took Harris by surprise.


“It does feel like a real kick in the teeth,” he said of the vote. “In my view the vote was directed at me. There was many ways in which that vote could have been framed but it was directed towards me.”

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That morning, there was a very different energy in the room in Dublin where the leadership of the GRA had gathered to unveil the results of their ballot. They looked and sounded emboldened and up for a fight, mainly in a dispute over new Garda rosters. The GRA is now armed with a rock-solid mandate to take on Harris. It is set for a special delegate conference in Kilkenny on September 27th to decide their next course of action. This could include a withdrawal of service, a strike in all but name.

GRA president Brendan O’Connor said efforts to work through the association’s concerns with Harris had proven “futile”. He said “disillusionment and disaffection” had now spread throughout the force. Policing in the Harris era was “all about meetings, pie charts and statistics”, with the Garda now “in crisis”. GRA general secretary Ronan Slevin believed Harris had “lost contact with the members on the frontline”. The assistant general secretary, Tara McManus, spoke of a “toxic culture” in the force.

The rosters row arises because rank-and-file gardaí specifically – the GRA membership – want to continue working rosters introduced for the pandemic. Under that system, gardaí work four days on, four off in 12-hour shifts, starting at 7am or 7pm. Because shifts are longer, gardaí work fewer days. This, they say, brings about a better work-life balance. It helps them cut down on the cost of travelling to work – mainly fuel for their cars – and makes it easier to plan childcare. They are also entitled to more unsocial hours allowance payments.

Harris plans to end the Covid-19 rosters on November 6th, when a rotation of six days on, four off, will return, worked in eight-hour shifts, with seven different start times for shifts. He says the pandemic rosters were designed for lockdown Ireland, when policing demand was “flat”. Now society has long reopened, policing demand is back to its usual pattern of peaks and dips.

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Gardaí are vehemently opposed to the move off the pandemic rosters. It is the main reason why the vote of no confidence in Harris was called. However, the GRA also has a range of other long-running complaints, including falling Garda numbers and increased administration leading to very low morale and a spike in resignations.

“There’s plenty of good going on in the organisation and I think that the GRA are creating a distorted picture of what’s happening in An Garda Síochána,” Harris said this week. He pointed out improved uniforms have been rolled out and the promotions system overhauled to make it more merit-based. Investment had been made in vehicles and big improvements achieved in the investigation of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual crimes. There had also been major successes against organised crime.

While the GRA is clearly now deeply at odds with Harris, he was very strongly supported by statements this week by the Policing Authority and the Government. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (Agsi) and the Association of Garda Superintendents (AGS) have both told The Irish Times that having confidence or not in Harris has simply not arisen within their associations.

Harris said while the GRA had deliberately personalised its ballot against him, it was “unclear what they were voting for”. He suggested the vote was not really about confidence in his leadership at all. “I believe that they felt they were voting on the decision to go back to the original roster,” he said.

Garda and Department of Justice sources said the vote should be seen in the context of a bitter industrial relations dispute. Harris, they pointed out, was not in the same position as former PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne just before he resigned. He stepped aside two weeks ago after a major data breach, which put his officers’ lives at risk, and a row over claims he disciplined police officers amid pressure from Sinn Féin.

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“There’s no major policing scandal here, but he’s lost the dressing room,” said one of the sources. But why is that? Why is Harris now so unloved?

Some gardaí admit there was resentment in the force when Harris was appointed as the first “outsider” to lead the Garda. From Northern Ireland, he joined the RUC in 1984 and had risen to deputy chief constable of the PSNI by the time he was appointed Garda Commissioner in 2018. But a bigger number of Garda members were less sure his “outsider” status was driving any dislike of him. One said “his management style gets up people’s noses”, with several colleagues agreeing. Asked to explain what they meant by this, they put forward some examples.

These included claims Harris was “dismissive” of, and “swatted away”, complaints brought forward by the GRA. Another source said “you were either on the Drew Harris bus or you were under it”. At meetings he “was hearing you but not listening” and only attended meetings, with the GRA, “as a box-ticking exercise to say that he’s met you”. One rank-and-file Garda member said he was “far too quick” to suspend gardaí.

Others insisted morale in the Garda was as low as they have ever seen it, that Harris must know this and yet had insisted several times in public remarks there was no issue with morale. One Garda member said he was “incensed” every time he heard Harris saying there was no morale crisis.

Those in senior positions in the Garda, and who are familiar with Harris’s management style, say he is determined to reform the organisation. They point out he was appointed, specifically to make reforms, after years of Garda scandals. They suggested he effectively believes there was light-touch discipline, and management fudges, in the past that did not serve the Garda well. One added: “He doesn’t believe management is a democracy.”