Harris met key policing overseers before becoming Garda chief

Ex-PSNI deputy chief promises a more open and transparent force after being sworn in

The new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris,  at Kevin Street Divisional Headquarters in Dublin as he took up his new role on Monday. Photograph: Garda/PA Wire

The new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, at Kevin Street Divisional Headquarters in Dublin as he took up his new role on Monday. Photograph: Garda/PA Wire

 

New Garda Commissioner Drew Harris met key figures in policing oversight in the weeks before taking up the role on Monday. They include the head of a commission that will shortly propose reforms for the force.

Since being named commissioner by the Government in late June, Mr Harris met Kathleen O’Toole, the former police chief of Boston and Seattle, who heads the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which is due to publish its report in the middle of this month.

The new commissioner also met Mark Toland, the chief inspector of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, and Josephine Feehily, chairwoman of the Policing Authority, in preparation to take over the role.

Mr Harris, who was until his appointment deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, joins An Garda Síochána at a time when the force faces a challenging period following years of crisis concerning fake breathalyser tests, the wiping of motoring penalty points and the treatment of whistleblowers.

He is the first candidate from outside the State to lead An Garda Síochána in its 96-year history.

Drew Harris, the new Garda Commissioner at Government Buildings. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Drew Harris, the new Garda Commissioner, at Government Buildings. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

The 53-year-old career policeman became commissioner at 12.01am on Monday morning when he was attested at the new divisional headquarters in Kevin Street Garda Station in Dublin city centre.

After midnight

Before an audience including rank-and-file gardaí, Department of Justice officials and members of the Garda Síochána oversight bodies, Mr Harris said he began the job after midnight as he wanted to get started “at the first opportunity” and to show that gardaí worked 24 hours a day, seven days week.

“It’s entirely appropriate that I, as commissioner, am standing here at 12 midnight taking my attestation into office,” he said after signing the Garda Code of Ethics and the Official Secrets Act.

The Garda under his leadership would focus on “protecting the people of Ireland and in particular the vulnerable within our society”, he said.

Addressing questions raised about the appointment of an outsider, Mr Harris told the audience that the Garda was “now my team”.

He is understood to have met senior Garda leadership at one of their regular meetings during the summer and told them he had no plans to recruit more external figures to senior roles.

We will have a workplace of openness and transparency, of equality of opportunity

Minutes after taking over as commissioner, the new chief set out his priorities in an open letter to the 16,000-strong force, telling them the Garda needed to “move quickly to adapt to a changing society”.

He envisaged a force that was “responsive, accountable and fit for purpose in a modern and progressive Ireland, with its primary purpose being the safety and security of our citizens”.

Controversies

Just a fortnight before the commission on future policing is scheduled to report, Mr Harris outlined his owns plans to modernise and improve the force, which has been beset by controversies in recent years.

“We will improve our systems, processes and training so you have the right tools and skills to do your job effectively,” he told Garda personnel.

“We will have a workplace of openness and transparency, of equality of opportunity, and of management at all levels speaking with and listening to the people they work with.

“We will be more open to concerns raised internally and externally.”

The commissioner’s first day in the job included a meeting with Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who said their wide-ranging discussion included gangland crime, rural policing and cybercrime.

“We discussed accountability and the importance of the Garda reform programme,” he said, and looking ahead to “a new vision of policing in Ireland” set out by the commission later this month.

Mr Harris relinquished his sworn oath to serve Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom and has switched allegiance to the Republic of Ireland. He has also applied for an Irish passport.

He has been appointed for a period of five years and will be paid a salary of €250,000, up from the €180,000 he was paid as PSNI deputy chief constable, a role he held for four years.

A father of four, the Northerner joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1983. His father, RUC superintendent Alwyn Harris, was murdered in an IRA car bomb in 1989 at the age of 51 on his way to a church service near the family’s home in Lisburn near Belfast.