Flanagan rejects claim that ‘outsider’ Drew Harris not properly vetted

Minister insists incoming Garda chief will bring experience and expertise to force

The new Kevin Street Garda station has opened in Dublin. Costing €28m to complete, it is the new divisional headquarters for the south inner city and will have 220 people working there. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has defended the vetting process the incoming Garda commissioner Drew Harris faced amid concern that State security services have been unable to properly examine his background.

The Minister said Mr Harris, a former PSNI deputy chief constable, who is to become the head of An Garda Síochána on Monday, was “an Irish man” rather than “an outsider” coming in.

During his time in the PSNI, Mr Harris worked closely with MI5, the British domestic security agency, and as Garda commissioner he will be responsible for matters of State security as well as day to day policing.

Michael C Murphy, a former deputy director of Irish military intelligence, this week expressed concern about the strength of the security checks that Mr Harris could have faced before taking the role as he lived outside the jurisdiction.

Mr Murphy wrote in the Sunday Business Post that getting top-secret security clearance can take up to six months as the process involves background checks on family, friends and intelligence contacts. “As this process cannot legally be conducted outside a State’s jurisdiction, a Top Secret clearance would not be granted to someone outside the jurisdiction.”

‘Scrutiny’

Asked about that assessment, Mr Flanagan said he was “satisfied all the appropriate levels of scrutiny and vetting were fully undertaken” in the case of Mr Harris. He said he was satisfied that Mr Harris “will be an excellent commissioner” given his expertise and experience.

“I note that he has been dubbed an outsider. I reject that. He is an experienced policeman. He has spent all of his career on police issues. He is an Irish man,” Mr Flanagan told reporters at the opening of the new Kevin Street Garda station in Dublin.

“I’m absolutely satisfied as to the independence of the process and the professionalism of the process involved. This was undertaken by the Policing Authority in accordance with our statutory law. There was an open competition.

“I’m satisfied as to the independence of the process and I’m satisfied all the appropriate levels of scrutiny and vetting were fully undertaken. And I look forward to welcoming Commissioner Harris early next week to his role.”

Last week the High Court dismissed a challenge to Mr Harris’s appointment by Ciarán MacAirt, whose grandmother was killed in a loyalist bombing on a Belfast bar in 1971.

Mr MacAirt questioned the choice due to Mr Harris having worked with the PSNI and the RUC, arguing that he could not direct or control any Garda investigation into the murder of an Irish citizen where there was credible evidence of collusion between the killers and the RUC or agencies of the British state.