Garda counter-espionage resources under review due to Ukraine war - Harris

Commissioner said force was ‘security service, as well a policing service’

The Garda's preparedness, and the level of resources available, for counter-espionage and State security investigations is under review in direct response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.

He revealed the review was under way just days after it emerged four members of the Russian delegation assigned to the embassy in Dublin were ordered by Government to leave the State. They have been expelled because the Government has been told they were spying, rather than engaging in diplomatic work.

Mr Harris pointed out the Garda was "also a security service, as well as being a policing service" with resources committed towards State security, including combating espionage.

"Those resources are in place, I've had to look to see what extra we need to be doing at this particularly difficult time, given the war in Ukraine and that's ongoing," Mr Harris told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday.

"As one can see from our accounts, we have been given additional resources over the last five or six years and part of that investment has been in the security services portion of An Garda Síochána.

“We are resourced to deal with the threats and if I feel the resources are insufficient then I have an open channel to my own Minister in terms of the resources or equipment or processes that we might need.”

Mr Harris added European countries were pooling their resource in the counter-espionage area and that the Garda force itself was “very conscious of our own internal security”, from physical security to staff vetting.

"This is something we take very seriously and given the experiences elsewhere in Europe, we are wise to take this seriously," he said.

Mr Harris was replying questions from PAC chairman Brian Stanley TD (SF), who asked if the Garda had “sufficient resources” to deal with the issues raised by the expulsion of the four Russians, specifically the espionage they were conducting in the Republic.

Separately at the PAC hearing, it also emerged that two Garda members have been suspended pending the outcome of internal investigations into the cancellation of thousands of 999 calls in recent years. While all calls were answered by Garda personnel and many were responded to by gardaí checking on callers or visiting scenes, they were then marked “cancelled”. That meant they were not registered properly, some crimes were not recorded and follow up calls, including welfare checks on domestic violence victims, were not performed.

To date 134 crimes have been identified where the opportunity to investigate was missed because calls were cancelled. When the problem was identified about 18 months ago, because time had elapsed since the incidents, each one was statute-barred, meaning gardaí had run out time to initiate a prosecution.

Mr Harris and Deputy Commissioner Shawna Coxon addressed the committee about the calls. They said they could not comment on reports of Garda personnel using WhatsApp to effectively advise their colleagues how to cancel calls, thus reducing workload. They also could not comment on a protected disclosure made from within the force about the culture of cancelling calls.

Ms Coxon said the cancellation of calls was being "investigated as serious misconduct" and that disciplinary procedures had been commenced, resulting in the suspension of two Garda members to date.

“I do not want to answer the question about the WhatsApp chat group because as we move forward into disciplinary hearings, including tribunals and have cases reviewed, potentially, by the DPP... I just don’t want to get into evidentiary pieces that could compromise that.”

However, she said the process of “laying” allegations of misconduct on individual Garda members arising from the cancellation of 999 calls had begun and was continuing though it was an “extremely lengthy” process. She believed “within six months” it would be clearer how many disciplinary cases would be arise from the controversy and what stages they were at.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times

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