Harris apologises to people let down by gardaí since establishment

Event marks 100th anniversary of the foundation of An Garda Síochána

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has apologised to individuals and communities let down by the force since its establishment a century ago.

Speaking at an event marking the anniversary of the foundation of An Garda Síochána, Mr Harris said while there was much to celebrate, its shortcomings too must be acknowledged.

"We must also reflect this evening on the times we did not meet our own high standards," he told the gathering at Dublin's Gresham Hotel, the site of the original meeting that led to the force's establishment.

“The evolution of our organisation over the past century has not been without its difficulties. As in any human endeavour, we have encountered many challenges through our history,” he said.

“There were times when we let individuals and communities down. Times when we should have done more, and, should have done better. For all those times, I want to apologise to those that we failed.”

Addressing the broad arc of history of the police force, Mr Harris noted that in the last recruitment round, 11,000 people applied to join its ranks - not far short of the force’s total 14,000 staff. Of those applicants, about 40 per cent were women.

“And there has been an increase in numbers applying across a range of ethnic backgrounds. We are passionate about delivering a policing service that represents every community and so this is a positive indication.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee also highlighted the increasing involvement of women in the force at every level - noting the participation of both former commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and former justice minister Nora Owen at Tuesday night's ceremony.

“While always serving our people, it’s been absolutely vital that An Garda Síochána has evolved over the years and that it has become reflective of the society that it represents,” she said.

“I want to in particular note the contribution made by female members of An Garda Síochána and in particular since the first 12 female recruits joined in 1959.”

Ms McEntee said she had been reminded of some inappropriate discussions in the Dáil at that time, when it was felt female gardaí “couldn’t be too good looking”.

“We have certainly moved on from then. Because of that changing environment and because of the fantastic women who have gone before so many here this evening, we have seen increasing numbers of women choosing An Garda Síochána as a career.”

She noted how the warm relationship between gardaí and the public at community level was the envy of other forces.

“Our local gardaí are the people that we turn to, often in the most difficult of moments. But they are also the people who often break the most difficult of news to us,” she said.

“I think of my own father’s death and I think of the wonderful people who came to my house at the time.”

Tuesday's event marked the centenary of the inaugural meeting of the Police Organising Committee to establish An Garda Síochána in place of the predecessor Royal Irish Constabulary.

The secret gathering took place at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin's north inner city on February 9th, 1922, presided over by Michael Collins as chairman of the Provisional Government of Ireland.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times