New commissioner Harris says Garda will be ‘more transparent’

Acting commissioner Donall O’Cualain stepped down at 00.01am on Monday

Drew Harris has begun his new career as Garda Commissioner.

Drew Harris has begun his new career as Garda Commissioner.

 

Drew Harris has begun his new career as Garda commissioner - at one minute past midnight.

Acting Garda commissioner Donall O’Cualain stepped down from his role at 00.01am on Monday, and in line with the Garda Siochana Act, Mr Harris was attested as Garda commissioner and immediately took up the role.

The attestation took place in Kevin Street Divisional Headquarters, Dublin.

Mr Harris has also sent a letter to all gardaí in which he outlines his vision for the force, emphasising that State security and protecting the vulnerable will be priorities while he is Commissioner.

Speaking at the event in Kevin Street, Mr Harris said: “We need to move quickly to adapt to a changing society to ensure that we are strongly positioned to protect the State, communities and the vulnerable. This is clear from the numerous reports into the organisation, the views of the public as expressed through the Garda Public Attitudes Survey, and from the views expressed internally through the Cultural Audit and staff representative bodies.

“To do this we will make use of our resources to best effect. We will deliver to the highest possible operational and ethical standards. We will improve our systems, processes and training so our people have the right tools and skills to do their job effectively.

“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.”

In keeping with tradition for such occasions, it was a private meeting with a small number of people present.

Mr Harris (53) was attested by a Peace Commissioner and signed the Garda Code of Ethics and the Official Secrets Act.

He will now take charge of the general direction and control of An Garda Siochana from his office in Garda Headquarters in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

He is responsible to the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan for the activities of the service.

The commissioner has a private secretary in the form of a superintendent, together with an administrative staff.

Mr Harris, the former deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), is a father of four who joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) 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 Lisburn home.

Mr Harris has been PSNI deputy chief constable for the past four years.

He has relinquished his sworn oath to serve Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, and has switched allegiance to the Garda and Republic of Ireland.

Mr Harris has also applied for an Irish passport.

Controversy

His salary of approximately €180,000 now jumps to €250,000 as Garda commissioner, and he will travel in an armoured vehicle, under escort, as he is considered a target for dissident republicans.

The appointment of Mr Harris has been the subject of much controversy.

A number of concerns were raised about him taking the role from a security perspective.

Last month, Ciaran MacAirt applied to the High Court to conduct a judicial review into the Government’s decision to appoint Mr Harris.

Mr MacAirt’s grandmother, Kathleen Irvine, was one of 15 people killed by an explosion at McGurk’s Bar in Belfast in December 1971.

The bomb was planted by the UVF but the RUC initially blamed the IRA, saying the bomb had exploded accidentally.

Mr MacAirt argued that because of Mr Harris’s oath to the UK’s Officials Secrets Act, he could not independently stand over any inquiry involving alleged collusion between the British security service and loyalist terrorists.

The court rejected Mr MacAirt’s application.

Mr Harris takes over from Mr O’Cualain, who has held the acting role since previous commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan announced her retirement in September 2017.

An Garda Síochána has come under intense scrutiny in the last year, and has been labelled as in dire need of reform.

False breath test figures, missing homicide data, issues with the finances at Templemore training college and the pending outcome of the Disclosures Tribunal are all facing Mr Harris as he takes on the role.

Partnership approach

The General Secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), Antoinette Cunningham wants new Harris to maintain open communications with staff organisations and to commit to a new community policing module.

Open communications are “hugely important” she told RTE’s Morning Ireland.

“We don’t want to find that he’s not totally engaged, it is critical to proceed with a partnership approach.”

Ms Cunningham acknowledged that in the past the AGSI has been critical of the garda hierarchy for not “calling out” the Government about the lack of resources.

“If there are shortages we would expect the new Commissioner to speak out on our behalf.”

She added that the association wants to wish the new Commissioner well in his new role.

While it was unprecedented that Mr Harris is the first Commissioner from “outside our own”, he brings a wealth of experience which is going to be important at this critical time, she said.

Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily says she has no concerns about the new commissioner dealing with security and intelligence matters, and that he must now be given time to do the job and be judged on his performance.

When asked about concerns over potential conflict of interest on matters of security, Ms Feehily told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that security vetting was carried out by the Department of Justice for the Government and the authority had no concerns about security and intelligence as people all over the world transfer from one sensitive post to another in other countries.

“This happens globally without cause for consternation. I’m sure the commissioner will address these issues.”

On the issue of security concerns for the new commissioner, Ms Feehily said that all previous commissioners had security protection and she was certain he would have his own risk assessment.

She said the Irish people deserve the best and that following the widest possible trawl of strong candidates from a wide field, Mr Harris had been chosen. “He has to be given time to do the job.”

The chairperson also said the new commissioner needs to reassure the gardaí and the public that he can resolve the issues in An Garda Síochána and the authority will engage with him on his policing plan for next year and his strategy for the next three years.

“No doubt his first task will be to engage with members of the force and then the public. He will want to spend time with front line gardaí.” –PA

Full text: Drew Harris’s letter to all gardaí

Colleagues,

I am incredibly proud and honoured to take the oath of office and be appointed Commissioner of An Garda Síochána today.

Firstly, I would like at this time to pay tribute to Dónall Ó Cualáin who is retiring from An Garda Síochána after 35 years of dedicated service. As Acting Commissioner, Dónall’s wise and ethical leadership was central to steering the organisation through a difficult period. I wish Dónall and his family all the best in a long, healthy and happy retirement.

Throughout its history An Garda Síochána has played an important role in Ireland. Its focus on community policing has created strong bonds with the people. This connection has been vital in preventing and tackling crime, and, as a result, in protecting and supporting communities. It is critical that this policing ethos of protecting our fellow citizens is maintained and enhanced. I will be particularly focused on ensuring that we do all we can to protect the vulnerable.

I know at first hand the commitment, dedication and sacrifice that has been made by members of An Garda Síochána in securing the State, particularly from the threat of terrorism. This has saved lives and protected communities on both sides of the Border. That work must and will continue to be a priority for the organisation and me as Commissioner.

We need to move quickly to adapt to a changing society to ensure that we are strongly positioned to protect the State, communities and the vulnerable. This is clear from the numerous reports into the organisation, the views of the public as expressed through the Garda Public Attitudes Survey, and from the views expressed internally through the Cultural Audit and staff representative bodies.

To do this we will make use of our resources to best effect. We will deliver to the highest possible operational and ethical standards. We will improve our systems, processes and training so you have the right tools and skills to do your job effectively. 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.

I envisage an An Garda Síochána that is responsive, accountable and fit for purpose in a modern and progressive Ireland, with its primary purpose being the safety and security of our citizens.

I will also be looking for your views on what we are doing well and what do we need to improve on. One of the things I will be focusing on in the first couple of months is going out to stations and offices around the country to listen to you on what practical measures would help you to deliver the best possible service.

Every day the men and women of An Garda Síochána across all ranks and grades make a positive contribution to their community. An Garda Síochána has a proud tradition of public service that has kept this State safe. The organisation has many excellent attributes that must be kept and built on.

Most critically, people in An Garda Síochána are fully committed to ensuring the organisation develops to meet the needs of society. This is a strong foundation from which to build on.

I very much look forward to working with you all to provide this country with the high-quality policing and security service it wants and deserves.

Drew Harris

Commissioner