Garda chief rejects depiction of Border area as ‘lawless’

‘Investigations are well resourced and progressing,’ says Drew Harris after Government meeting

 Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan  and  Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris during a press conference following a meeting in Government Buildings on Wednesday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan and Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris during a press conference following a meeting in Government Buildings on Wednesday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said he does not accept suggestions “that the Border area is lawless,” following a string of high profile crimes in the area.

“Investigations are well resourced and progressing in terms of the crimes which have happened close to the Border and which have obviously been of concern,” he said.

Commissioner Harris provided updates to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan on several investigations into crimes in the area on Wednesday.

“We are there to enforce the rule of law, to ensure the people can go about their business free from the fear of crime and we are determined in that” Mr Harris told reporters after the meeting.

Mr Harris said he was “content” with the investigation gardaí were conducting into the abduction and torture of Quinn Industrial Holdings (QIH) executive Kevin Lunney and into threats made against other executives.

In recent days the gang suspected of the crimes sent a fresh death threat to the directors in a letter to a Belfast newspaper. In response a QIH spokesman said the threats would not stop “until the paymaster behind it is brought to justice.”

Speaking in Government Buildings Mr Harris said “if people are suggesting that there is a paymaster then they should be bringing that information to An Garda Síochána so we can pursue that line of inquiry.

“We have put in place necessary resources to do all that we can to counter the threats that there may be to the directors and other employees of Quinn Industrial Holdings,” he said.

The policing of any border between two jurisdictions “brings its own unique circumstances,” Mr Flanagan said.

“In the Quinn Holdings crime we have a classic case of an abduction in Northern Ireland and then the abandonment of a citizen of our state in the Republic,” he said.

It was important the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) “move towards an even greater level of coordination” given recent events, the Minister added.

“The message to people along the Border areas is that those responsible for these heinous crimes, some unrelated, will be brought to justice,” Mr Flanagan said.

Death threat

The Garda Commissioner said signs erected along the Cavan and Fermanagh border criticising the current directors of QIH would be taken down. The recent death threat had warned anyone who removed these signs would be targeted, be it council employees or outside contractors.

“We will address that issue, it will be the removal of those posters, and if we have to employ specialist help to do so we will,” Mr Harris said.

Separately, gardaí had been asked to conduct “a series of actions in respect of gathering evidence and gathering information” to assist the investigation by Essex police into the deaths of 39 people found in a lorry last week, Mr Harris said.

“That is happening and if that includes searching for individuals [in the Republic] that also is being undertaken,” he said.

Essex police released the names of two individuals with links to Northern Ireland and the Republic, Ronan Hughes (40) and his brother Christopher (34), who they want to speak to on suspicion of manslaughter and human trafficking.

“We have received no European Arrest Warrant at this moment but one has to understand that it is very early stages of a huge enquiry, multinational enquiry, and we stand ready to cooperate really at a minutes’ notice of any requests that will be made to us,” Mr Harris said.

Earlier, Mr Varadkar said extra security resources were being deployed along the Border to deal with concerns about criminality.

Speaking after the weekly Cabinet meeting - but before the Cabinet sub committee on security, which was attended by the Garda Commissioner and the Defence Forces Chief of Staff - Mr Varadkar said the State would restore law and order.

“There has been a very significant increase in Garda resources in the Border counties. There is an extra 150 gardaí assigned there just in the last two years. There is an extra 50 garda staff and an armed support unit now operational in Cavan.

“But we are keen to talk about how we can provide additional resources for the gardaí in that area,” the Taoiseach said.

“I am going to talk to the Garda Commissioner later on and also what additional actions could be taken to ensure that law and order prevails in the area, including greater cross border co-operation.”

He was speaking as one of the directors of QIH warned that members of the public with information about the attacks would only come forward if they felt protected.

Tony Lunney, whose brother and co-director Kevin was the victim of a brutal attack last month, said he too could only hold out against his would-be attackers if he saw progress in tackling them.

Asked if he believed those behind the campaign might kill him, he said: “I would put nothing past them.”

On Tuesday, just as Kevin Lunney made his first tentative return to work, he and fellow QIH directors received a second threat warning them they “haven’t learned your lesson” from last month’s abduction and torture.

A “permanent solution” could be found, it said.

‘A bad dream’

“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever...it’s like a bad dream. But you have to take is serious, any of these (threats),” Tony Lunney told RTÉ’s Drivetime on Wednesday.

The latest warning was directed at Tony Lunney, the firm’s production director; his brother Kevin, the chief operations officer; Liam Caffrey, chief executive; chief financial officer Dara O’Reilly; and Mr McCartin, a non-executive director.

As regards the likelihood of members of the local community giving police vital information in tracking down and prosecuting those responsible, Mr Lunney said it had improved following an appeal from Cavan priest Fr Oliver O’Reilly but that there had to be some confidence it would make a difference.

“They need to be able to see that they are going to be protected, that there is going to be action,” he said.

“People need to see results if they give information or if they put their heads above the parapet...for real information and to convict people, people need to be sure that it’s going to be dealt with.”