Gardaí 'not immune' to IRA infiltration says ex-senior PSNI officer
Andrew McQuillan responds to criticism of appointment of new Garda Commissioner
The new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris at Government Buildings. Photograph: Maxwell Photography
To suggest An Garda Síochána was “immune” from infiltration by the IRA is “fundamentally wrong”, retired PSNI assistant chief constable Andrew McQuillan has said.
Reacting to concerns at evidence given at the Smithwick Tribunal by new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about alleged infiltration by the IRA in the Garda station in Dundalk, Mr McQuillan said he could understand the Garda’s hurt.
“The PSNI at one stage had found agents of the IRA in its staff, the government in Northern Ireland was riddled with them, he said.
“To say that the garda was immune from it is fundamentally wrong.”
Mr Harris, who is currently the Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, was appointed following a process run by the Public Appointment Service.
The Smithwick Tribunal was investigated possible Garda collusion with the IRA in the murders of RUC officers chief supt Harry Breen and supt Bob Buchanan in March, 1989, shortly after they left Dundalk Garda station. In his final report, Judge Peter Smithwick concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, there was collusion.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr McQuillan said there had to be a change in culture in AGS and said Mr Harris was being brought in as part of a reform agenda.
“Drew Harris, in my view, is only the first part, I think the next issue is going to be the O’Toole Commission [looking at the future of policing] and its report, we don’t know what’s in that yet, but I suspect that the O’Toole commission will be in many ways as difficult for An Garda Síochána as the Patten Commission report was for the RUB,” he said.
“It will cover major areas of reform and I think they brought Drew in to implement those.”
He said his former colleague had “a very strong record of working with An Garda Síochána”.
“This is a guy, very bright, very sharp, very focused, he is not someone who screams and shouts and jumps up and down, he’s someone who gets on, works with people and delivers,” Mr McQuillan said.
“ This is a guy who, from my knowledge of him in the past, is . . . there’s no side to him, he’s honest, he’s straightforward and he has absolute integrity and I think that’s one of the things that the Garda need at the moment, both in terms of dealing with people internally and dealing with them in the community in the Republic.”
Also speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, John O’Brien, former Chief Supt with AGS said Mr Drew’s appointment was “a bit of a shock wave”.
“That’s not taking from the fact that Drew Harris is recognised as a distinguished and competent police officer, but I think the paradigm was, particularly in relation to State security, and in relation to legacy issues, that it would not be possible for Drew Harris to fulfil that position.”
He said no country he was aware of would have an officer that is directly connected with a security service of another state running its security service.
“It’s a sovereign right to look after your own State security from the indigenous core, I know of no State security organisation and I’m really familiar with that field in Europe or elsewhere, that would do it that particular way.”
He highlighted Mr Harris’s evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal and said he also had “first hand knowledge” of current British inquiries into the activities of Steaknife otherwise Freddy Scappaticci.
“Similarly Drew will have key information about the murder of the county Louth farmer by the provisional IRA, that’s the murder of Tom Oliver, how is he going to use that information in the context of his leadership of the Garda Síochána because he certainly has information that the guards don’t have?” Mr O’Brien asked.
He said suggestions that Mr Harris would pick his own team was “spin”.
“We certainly don’t want an Uno Duce, Una Voce position at the top of the guards, really you need a dynamic to lead the Garda Síochána and it needs leadership, but it’s not the only dynamic and the dynamic of understanding the policing process in this country is very important.”
He also said the interview board that chose Mr Drew “did not have anybody on it with the necessary policing experience”.
“One of the consequences of the various issues that have arisen, principally in the last five years, is that domestic policing experience is seen as negative, not good in Trumpian terms and any foreign experience is seen to be valued,” Mr O’Brien said.
“There is something wrong in that analysis, but I’m particularly concerned about the legacy and the State security issues and those questions really need to be asked and answered.”
Miami Showband Massacre survivor Stephen Travers also criticised Mr Drew’s appointment, describing it as “putting the fox in charge of the hen house”.
On July 31st, 1975, a bus carrying five members of the Miami Showband, one of Ireland’s most popular cabaret bands, was flagged down at what appeared to be a British military checkpoint as they were travelling south to Dublin.
The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had intended to plant a bomb on to the musicians’ bus and have it detonate later. Two UVF men were killed by their own bomb as it detonated before they could plant it in the vehicle.
Mr Travers said the appointment of Mr Harris is “a massive step back and will not help with reconciliation”.
He said it is not right to reach out to one community and to “slap the other down”, and it would be “catastrophic” to the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, he said.
Mr Travers said Mr Harris might swear allegiance when appointed Garda Commissioner, but Mr Travers would prefer “if he held up his hands and said here are the files, here are the people responsible.”
When he was part of the PSNI, Mr Harris had blocked, delayed and frustrated every effort to “find out who shot our lads”, he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
The appointment, he said, was “a hammer blow to every victim of collusion.”
‘Talented police officer’
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the process to appoint Mr Harris was long and robust. “He’s a very talented police officer, he’s been part of the reform agenda in Northern Ireland, as the RUB became the PSNI, he was a central figure in that,” he said.
“Anybody I’ve spoken to about Drew Harris has nothing but positive things to say about him, I believe that he will do a very good job, he’s new, he’s fresh, he’s different - it’s the first time we’ve had a Garda Commissioner from outside the ranks of An Garda Síochána and I think that is appropriate at this time.”
Mr Coveney told the News at One programme that people need to allow Mr Harris settle into the job, and “many of the questions that people are asking he has had to answer through the interview processes that he’s been through.”
He said: “I know that the gardaí, the PSNI, as indeed, the governments will have to . . . ensure that the legacy process and the reconciliation process in Northern Ireland and Ireland moves forward in a way that is based on truth and full accountability and transparency.”
Sinn Féin’s spokesman on justice and equality Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD told the same programme his party will work constructively with the new Commissioner and had already worked with him in the PSNI.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said he expects the Garda and the new Commissioner to pursue the Dublin-Monaghan bombings case.
A total of 34 people - 27 in Dublin and seven in Monaghan - were killed on Friday, May 17th, 1974, in bomb attacks. A loyalist terror group active in the 1970s, the Glenanne gang, was implicated in the attack.
It is up to the Irish Government to pursue the British government to get the relevant files, Mr Ó Laoghaire said.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the process of appointment had been “impeccable” and he believes Mr Harris is the best person for the role.
The Government will separately pursue the files on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. He said he believes the appointment “sends out a powerful signal.” It is a catalyst.
Meanwhile, Peter Sheridan, predecessor as assistant chief constable in charge of crime in the newly-restructured PSNI, has said Mr Harris will not have a problem sharing any information he has in relation to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
Mr Sheridan told Morning Ireland he suspects if Mr Harris has any information it is already in the system.
He said he had not been surprised at the appointment of Mr Harris whom he described as “a very decent individual.”
“I knew in an interview situation he would present himself very well, it obviously is a big change that somebody from outside the State was taken on, it’s a big step for the Government to appoint someone from outside the State,” he said.
“I have no doubt that Drew will do well.
When asked about any information Mr Harris might have in relation to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, Mr Sheridan replied: “Drew will do what people expect him to do, which is to deal with the matter as straightforwardly as possible.
“He is someone I find of the highest integrity. If you take his own personal circumstances, I’d ask people to consider this, that his father was blown up and murdered, his mother was injured in the same attack on their way to church one Sunday morning.
“In all of my experiences with Drew I never once saw any sign of any bias or lack of impartiality in decisions he made, in how he treated people.
“I never saw him using that experience in any way that would have been to the detriment of people.”
On the issue of Garda collusion in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, Mr Sheridan said Mr Harris already has experience of dealing with police officers in Northern Ireland who had broken the law. “Drew will deal with people with that impartiality, he’s a professional police officer,” he said.
When asked if he thinks Mr Harris will demand the PSNI hand over any information in relation to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, Mr Sheridan said:
“I’d expect Drew to do exactly that if he believes and understands there’s information, I do not see it will be a difficulty for Drew to ask for that information if he believes it’s there.”