Garda Commissioner Drew Harris criticises ‘draconian’ Government plans to reform force

Garda Commissioner outlines ‘serious concerns’ over new draft legislation

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris:  scheme ‘falls well short of our shared ambition for a transparent, accountable, trusted and effective policing service for the future’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris: scheme ‘falls well short of our shared ambition for a transparent, accountable, trusted and effective policing service for the future’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Government plans to reform the Garda and its oversight agencies have been dealt a blow by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, who says he has “serious concerns” about new legislation drafted to provide for the changes.

The Irish Times has learned Mr Harris sent forthright correspondence to the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, in which he said reforms planned by the Government were “draconian” and marked by an “absence of clarity”.

He welcomed the creation of a new Garda board but said the lack of clarity about how it would overlap with the new Policing and Community Safety Authority risked “encroaching on the operational independence” of the office of Garda Commissioner.

Mr Harris was critical of the “disproportionate” new powers being given to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), which investigates allegations of wrongdoing against Garda members.

The powers would be legally challenged by Garda members placed under investigation. That litigation was likely to prove successful on the basis “the very foundational principles of constitutional fairness” had been “transgressed”.

Mr Harris has critiqued the Government’s Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, having been invited to make a submission by the Oireachtas committee as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process.

“As it is currently drafted, the scheme falls well short of our shared ambition for a transparent, accountable, trusted and effective policing service for the future,” he said of the Bill in his submission.

Challenging

In reply to queries, the Department of Justice said “significant organisational reform, including institutional change, culture and work practices, is always challenging”. Reforms in the Bill were part of the programme for government. Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys had “discussed it with the commissioner and will continue to do so”.

Mr Harris also noted a new “independent examiner of security legislation” was being created as an oversight agency for State security services and legislation. But the Garda was “resolute in its position” that State security intelligence could never be shared “without the explicit permission” of those who provided the intelligence.

The critical appraisal by Mr Harris is problematic for Government as he was appointed three years ago to implement Garda reform recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The Bill is based on those recommendations.