Gardaí deny incident involving commissioner was ‘security incident’

Bollard at Garda Headquarters damaged vehicle due to malfunction

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was travelling in a PSNI vehicle which was hit by a security bollard as it entered Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park two weeks ago. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was travelling in a PSNI vehicle which was hit by a security bollard as it entered Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park two weeks ago. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Garda Síochána has said an incident which damaged a vehicle carrying Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was the result of a “malfunction” and was not a security incident.

Mr Harris was travelling in a Police Service of Northern Ireland vehicle which was hit by a security bollard as it entered Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

The bollard deployed as the armour-protected reinforced Range Rover travelled over it, hitting the underside and damaging the engine block two weeks ago.

“A newly-installed bollard malfunctioned and caught the underside of the vehicle the commissioner was travelling in. This happened at a walking pace. No vehicles were flipped,” a Garda spokesman said.

The spokesman denied reports carried in The Irish Times and elsewhere that the barrier had been deployed because a garda at the gate feared a security risk and raised the bollards.

“The malfunction was quickly fixed and vehicular traffic went in and out of Garda HQ as normal that day,” the spokesman said.

The incident, which first became public knowledge last weekend, has raised questions about the role of armed PSNI officers in escorting Mr Harris south of the Border.

“As per our previous statement, normal movement procedures were followed in relation to the commissioner,” the Garda said.

The Irish Times reported today that some PSNI officers have been sanctioned by the Department of Justice to carry firearms in the Republic since 2013. Certain gardaí are also allowed to operate with firearms in Northern Ireland.

Emergency Response Unit

The incident involving Mr Harris occurred as he was returning from Northern Ireland to Garda Headquarters. He had been driven to the Border by armed PSNI officers where he was met by a Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) vehicle.

Instead of transferring to the Garda vehicle, Mr Harris remained in the PSNI vehicle which drove in convoy with the ERU vehicle to Dublin.

Reports of the PSNI’s role in protecting Mr Harris in the Republic have angered some rank-and-file members of the Garda who see it as a denigration of the function of the highly-trained ERU, which is responsible for the commissioner’s safety.

However, a senior source said it made “good operational sense” not to pause at the Border to transfer vehicles, especially at a time of increased activity from dissident republican groups.

On Monday, John O’Brien, retired Garda chief superintendent and former national head of Interpol and Europol, said the incident raised questions about the commissioner’s judgment.

“It is not standard operating procedure, the usual way that we do things, that an armed escort from the PSNI would travel to Garda headquarters to protect the commissioner of the Garda Síochána,” he said.

“Drew Harris needs to indicate why he exercised this particular judgment in this case because it is, in my professional experience, most unusual,” he told RTÉ radio.