Drew Harris says he worked hard not to become bitter over his father’s killing by IRA

Garda Commissioner says he has had a ‘very, very positive experience’ so far in role

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on RTÉ’s Late Late Show. Photograph: RTÉ

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris on RTÉ’s Late Late Show. Photograph: RTÉ

 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said he worked hard not to become bitter after his father was killed by the IRA.

The senior officer’s father Alwyn, a superintendent in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), died in a car bomb attack in 1989.

Mr Harris had also been an officer in the RUC at the time.

He remained in the force when it became the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and rose to the rank of deputy chief constable before taking on the top job at the Garda in 2018.

“It takes a long time to come to terms with something as difficult, as traumatic and as awful in your life, and you carry it with you every day,” he told RTÉ’s The Late Late Show on Friday night.

“Every day I would think about my father, but in terms of me as a police officer and now the Garda Commissioner, what it means to me is I think I have an empathy for those who have been the victim of serious crime.

“In lots of ways it has had a profound effect on my outlook as to what policing should be . . . and what we should do for those who are without a voice or might be marginalised in society.”

He said he has worked hard at not being bitter over his father’s death.

“In these things you have perhaps a choice, I was married to Jane, we had our first son and then we had another three children after that, and you have a choice in terms of the household your children are going to grow up into, and so I worked hard at not being bitter,” he said.

“I don’t mean to be smart or clever, or shine a halo when I say that, because it was very difficult and it took a long time to get to that point, but at the same time you have your own life to live and nobody would be more upset than my father if he thought I was just living an embittered life.”

Asked if he felt the need to forgive the killers, Mr Harris said he was neutral on that.

“They have never sought atonement, and forgiveness is a two-way street,” he said.

Covid-19 case

Separately, Mr Harris said he counts himself very lucky after a mild dose of Covid-19.

He said he had the virus over the Christmas period, but was back to work after about 2½ weeks.

“Mild but unpleasant and no joke, my heart goes out to those who have suffered from it and I count myself as being very fortunate,” he said.

“I do count myself very lucky in that way [that it was not more severe].”

Mr Harris said the Garda went through a “bad period” at the start of January with Covid-19, but that it is now 95 per cent operational, compared with 97 per cent in “normal times”.

“We have about 200-300 who are either suffering from Covid or self-isolating,” he said.

“We have good strong operational capabilities . . . and you can see the amount of work we are doing out on the ground.”

He said there has been a reduction in cross-Border traffic by between 10 to 12 per cent since the Garda was given powers to fine people travelling across the Border without a “reasonable excuse”.

“That is significant, but we won’t know fully until we have seen a couple of weekends when you see accelerated amounts of movement,” he said.

“But travellers from anywhere, including Northern Ireland, must have an essential purpose for their journey.

“It is not a hard Border in so much as people can travel backwards and forwards if they can show an essential purpose.

“We work closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and if we are working close to the Border we work in partnership with them.”

Mr Harris added that he has had a “very, very positive experience” so far halfway through his first term in the role of Garda Commissioner.

“My contract said five years, so whether I get a second term or not is probably for others to determine,” he said.

“What I want to be sure is that however long I am here that I have left the organisation stronger and in a better place.” - PA