Be ‘operationally honest’, Garda Commissioner tells recruits

Harris says: ‘We are here to serve the people, not ourselves, not the organisation; the people’

New Garda Commissioner   Drew Harris. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

New Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Gardaí must be “operationally honest” in the line of duty and they were not in the force to serve themselves or the organisation, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has told a group of almost 200 recruits.

“We are the servants of the people; a police and security service,” he said presiding over his first passing out ceremony at the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, on Friday.

“We are here to serve the people, not ourselves, not the organisation; the people.”

He invoked the words of the first commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Michael Staines, saying the Garda would succeed “not by force of arms, but by their moral authority”.

Mr Harris added the force still had the backing of Irish society. But that support could not be taken for granted. Every member of the Garda had a key role in “enhancing the great support” coming from the public.

“To maintain that support we must act with integrity,” he said in his address delivered to 186 new Garda members passing out from the college.

“We must be operationally honest. That means acting in the best interests of the public. That means being up-front with people.

“That means treating everyone we meet with respect, dignity and empathy.”

His remarks were significant coming from a new Commissioner, recently installed from outside the force to lead the Garda, and following a series of policing scandals in recent years.

Touching directly on one criticism levelled at the Garda, that it is reluctant or even unwilling to listen to whistleblowers and others who speak up about issues of concern, Mr Harris implied this needed to change.

The culture of treating members of the public in an open and upfront way also needed to flourish inside the Garda. Members needed listen to each other with respect.

Any ideas about how the force could improve, no matter who they came from, should always be welcomed.

“We will be more receptive to constructive criticism; whether it comes from inside out outside the organisation,” he said in a speech delivered to the newly attested gardaí but clearly with a wider audience also in mind.

It was an exciting time for the Garda, with new members joining, new technology to improve policing being invested in and “new approaches” being adapted, he said. However, there were always opportunities to “do things better”.

Mr Harris, who was sworn in on Monday after transferring from the PSNI where he was deputy chief constable, had said earlier in the week that he would be reviewing how the Garda was spending the resources it had at its disposal.

He told reporters only after that review was completed could he say if the Garda budget needed to be increased.

Mr Harris’s planned review of spending and resources is under way. As part of that review he is to meet his senior team in Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, early next week to discuss finances, including overtime spending.

Speaking at Templemore on Friday morning, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan was non-committal about increasing the Garda budget.

He said the force was growing by 500 members annually. The additional manpower, he added, would offset the need for overtime.

There has been concern in Government for the last two years about overtime spending in the Garda.

The force is currently on track to need a supplementary budget of about €30 million for the full year.

However, the provision of additional funds to deal with overspending on policing has been common. And Garda spending this year was greatly impacted by the visits of Pope Francis and Prince Charles.

The planned visit of US president Donald Trump in November will also require additional one-off expenditure by the Garda.