‘Grave concern’ at how Garda role in State security monitored

ICCL calls for ‘scrutiny’ of intelligence efforts as Drew Harris set to become commissioner

Drew Harris, previously Deputy Chief Constable of  the Police Service of Northern Ireland, will take over as Garda commissioner on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

Drew Harris, previously Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, will take over as Garda commissioner on Monday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

 

The appointment of a new Garda commissioner should coincide with the introduction of an effective means of scrutinising how the work of the State security services is carried out, the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) has said.

Drew Harris, who previously serviced as Deputy Chief Constable in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), will take over from acting commissioner Donall Ó Cualáin on Monday.

His appointment to such a sensitive position has drawn criticism from some quarters due to his close links with British intelligence services as a result of his close links to the PSNI. As An Garda Síochána is the State’s primary intelligence agency, Mr Harris will have responsibility for sensitive matters of State security along with day to day policing.

This week Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan strongly defended the appointment, calling Mr Harris “an Irish man” and “not an outsider”.

While declining to comment on Mr Harris’s suitability for the position, ICCL director Liam Herrick said it is vital some form of independent oversight of State security policing is introduced.

When it comes to policing matters the Garda is answerable to several bodies including the Policing Authority, the Oireachtas Justice Committee and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

However, these bodies have no jurisdiction in relation to state security issues, including the issuing of surveillance warrants and wiretaps. This is in contrast to most other western countries such as the UK, where state security agencies are answerable to a Westminster Committee.

In Ireland the only oversight provision for State security matters is a single judge who signs surveillance warrants and issues a short annual report each year. “There has been some focus in the media on issues of national security around the transition process,” Mr Herrick told The Irish Times.

“ICCL believes that one of the key challenges will be to put in place effective independent oversight processes to monitor national security policing.

“We have grave concerns that in the Republic there is no publicly available information on State security operations, and oversight bodies such as GSOC are not mandated to inspect those processes.”

Mr Herrick acknowledged it is “an extremely complex area” but he pointed out that the Northern Ireland Policing Board’s human rights expert has oversight of the PSNI intelligence branch and that other independent processes were established “to permit scrutiny of other intelligence and security partners.

“It is high time such a system was implemented here,” he said.

Mr Herrick said Mr Harris’s appointment comes at a critical moment for Irish policing as he will oversee the most radical reform process in the history of the Garda.

He said he was “encouraged by the fact” that Mr Harris was part of the process which saw the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) “radically transformed into the human-rights compliant PSNI, now respected worldwide for its ongoing programme of reform using a human rights approach”.