Drew Harris has come under extreme pressure since last Thursday’s riots in Dublin, with several political parties - led by Sinn Féin - calling for his resignation. On Tuesday he faced a three-hour session of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice where Dáil deputies and senators grilled him on the events of last week. The meeting was potentially high-risk for the commissioner, but he came through it relatively unscathed, though not without these sparks flying.
‘I will not resign’: Harris tells committee he cares too much about the job
“I’m not going to resign,” Harris told Colm Brophy TD (FG), who had asked him about how he felt hearing the calls for him to resign. “I care too much, actually, about this job, I care too much about the responsibilities that I have to protect the people of Ireland and to lead An Garda Síochána. I have a huge amount of work to do and part of that work is the response to this. So I have no intention whatsoever of resigning.”
He added the Garda intended to ramp up its response to public disorder – including stronger pepper sprays and stun guns for more uniform gardaí and the purchase of two water cannon. However, the response would be “graduated” – increasing in more violent situations. But it also has to respect the right to public gatherings and protests.
Sinn Féin send in tag team Daly and O’Reilly
Sinn Féin TDs Pa Daly and Louise O’Reilly clearly went into the committee hearing with one main goal in mind; to extract from Harris how long it took him and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to confer last Thursday.
Daly repeatedly pressed Harris into providing a specific time but the commissioner said he could not remember as he had “so much on my mind”. When Daly continued to press hard on the issue, Harris maintained eye contact with him and calmly, but very firmly, said: “I’ve already answered that question”.
Alan Kelly drills down into Garda numbers
While Harris admitted the Garda force was currently short of personnel, to the tune of 1,000 sworn gardaí, Alan Kelly TD (Lab) wanted to drill down into some numbers. When he asked the commissioner how many Garda recruits had passed through the Garda College, Templemore, this year, Harris said he did not have a specific number to hand. Kelly, clearly stunned, told him “this isn’t personal but that’s not acceptable”. Eventually, Harris consulted some notes and concluded the number was 633. He added up to 200 more were still to enter the college this year. Kelly replied that intake would start on December 28th, a festive season date for starting training “which has never happened before”. He appeared to be implying a class was being rushed in during the middle of the festive period to massage the 2023 recruit numbers, though he did not specifically state that.
‘Scumbags’ or ‘thugs’: Language used by the Garda questioned
Senator Lynn Ruane said the debate around the Garda’s response was a “distraction”. Instead, she wanted to focus on “why” the disturbances had happened and she took issue with those involved being referred to as “scumbags” or “thugs”. She pointed out official correspondence from Garda Headquarters had included the word “thugs”, saying society could instead “play the ball not the player” – or discuss “behaviour” rather than labelling the people responsible for it. Harris initially said the Garda would not use such phrases before Ruane interjected to point out the word “thugs” was in a statement furnished by the Garda to the committee. Harris stumbled over his words for a moment before saying the Garda should be “more careful” with language in the future.
Gardaí must get the better of ‘gurriers’, McDowell insists
Senator Michael McDowell, a former attorney general and minister for justice, picked up on Senator Ruane’s remarks, saying he would use the word “gurriers”. Anyone “confronting” a Garda member “should feel that if they use violence, that the garda not merely will be proportionate, but will also come off best out of any confrontation”. McDowell noted the Public Order Act gave gardaí “the right to direct people to disperse and to move away, failing which they will be arrested cases of disorder”. It seemed to McDowell riotous groups should be told to disperse more often in the Republic, including last Thursday when the first grouping began to gather. He believed those engaged in hardline protests were being allowed act with increasing impunity, which could not continue.
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