The appointment of a former PSNI officer as Garda commissioner should coincide with the introduction of effective oversight procedures for national security in the State, according to the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL).
Drew Harris, who previously served as deputy chief constable in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), will take up the position on Monday, replacing retiring Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin.
Mr Harris’s appointment to such a sensitive position has drawn criticism from some quarters due to his close links with British intelligence services while in the PSNI.
Because the Garda is the country’s primary intelligence agency, he will have responsibility for sensitive matters of State security along with day-to-day policing.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan strongly defended the appointment, calling Mr Harris "an Irishman" who is "not an outsider".
ICCL director Liam Herrick said it is vital some form of independent oversight of State security policing is introduced.
"ICCL believes that one of the key challenges will be to put in place effective independent oversight processes to monitor national security policing," Mr Herrick told The Irish Times. "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."
The Garda is answerable to several bodies, including the Policing Authority, the Oireachtas Justice Committee and the Garda Ombudsman.
However, these bodies have no jurisdiction in relation to national 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 is a single judge who signs surveillance warrants and issues short annual reports.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said Mr Harris has gone through a process endorsed by the Government and that it will engage with him in his new role, while the Garda Representative Association said it looked forward to working with the new commissioner to achieve the best it could for frontline officers.
Meanwhile, the Garda Síochána Retired Members’ Association has written to Mr Harris expressing concern about the evidence he gave to the Smithwick tribunal in 2012. The tribunal investigated alleged collusion between the Garda and the Provisional IRA in the murder of two RUC officers as they drove home after a meeting in Dundalk Garda station in 1989.
In its letter, the association said “very real concerns” had been expressed by its members, particularly in Dundalk, about the evidence given by Mr Harris, which suggested Garda collusion. He had declined to share the evidence in full, for security reasons.
The tribunal concluded that unknown Garda members had colluded in the murders.