Mary Lou McDonald taken to task over remarks on new Garda commissioner

Taoiseach says the Sinn Féin leader is ‘almost trying to undermine Drew Harris’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald outside Leinster House, Dublin. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Taoiseach has accused Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald of being “almost in the space of trying to undermine confidence in the new Garda commissioner before he’s even taken up office”.

Leo Varadkar said that "when it comes to issues around truth and reconciliation, I think everyone has a part to play", adding that this applied to Sinn Féin and "the people associated with Sinn Féin as much as it does to anyone else".

He was responding in the Dáil on Wednesday after Ms McDonald said incoming Garda commissioner Drew Harris, currently the deputy chief constable of the PSNI and a former RUC officer, had to have the confidence of the public to deliver radical reform of An Garda Síochána and to develop an ethos of openness and accountability in the force.

Mr Harris’s appointment was announced on Tuesday. He will take up office in September.


Ms McDonald said Mr Harris had to earn that trust, “particularly in relation to his involvement with legacy cases.

“He has to demonstrate he in no way subscribes to the toxic, vindictive policing culture which necessitated the disbanding of the RUC.”

She referred to concerns voiced by victims of "British state violence" and comments on Mr Harris's approach to the issue by Miami Showband massacre survivor Stephen Travers, who spoke of "the old RUC culture of political policing and cover-up".

She said similar concerns were raised by the Relatives for Justice campaign group, who said that “Mr Harris has at every opportunity sought to thwart families in the search for truth and accountability, that he has had a stranglehold on legacy and acted partially and with vested interest”.

Ms McDonald said she wanted to acknowledge that Mr Harris “comes to this with his own story of loss and pain from the conflict in the North and that cannot be minimised”. Mr Harris’s father, an RUC officer, was killed in an IRA car bomb in 1989. His mother survived the attack.

Extended sympathies

The Taoiseach said he offered his sympathies to anyone and any family affected by the Troubles, “during that awful period of our history in which various organisations wrought violence”.

He said: "I think Drew Harris is going to be someone who can really bring about better policing in Ireland and greater accountability.

“He was very much involved in the transition from the RUC to the PSNI, which I think we all agree has been a big success and I think he can bring those abilities to the Garda Síochána.”

Mr Varadkar said the general sense he had from the majority of the public, as well as from gardaí and Fianna Fáil, was that they welcomed the appointment and "see it as a new departure and an opportunity for new and better policing in Ireland".

Mr Varadkar expressed his disappointment in Ms McDonald’s remarks.

He said that “truth and reconciliation requires that everyone plays their part, that everyone who has information about crimes that were committed in the past, about atrocities involved, should bring that information forward and that applies to Sinn Féin and all of the people associated with Sinn Féin as much as it does to anyone else”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times