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'I am Irish': New Garda Commissioner says he'll lead by example to restore public's trust in the force

Drew Harris was speaking with Miriam O’Callaghan on RtÉ Radio One.

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris

NEW GARDA COMMISSIONER Drew Harris vowed that his tenure as the country’s top officer will be one of transparency and accountability as he dismissed that his previous role in the PSNI could act as a conflict of interest. 

Harris’s appointment had created controversy in certain circles with many suggesting that he was unfit to serve as commissioner due to his work with the then RUC.

Indeed, one person took a case to the High Court in a bid to stop him getting the job. 

The action had been brought by researcher Ciaran MacAirt whose grandmother Kathleen Irvine was one of 15 people killed when a loyalist bomb exploded at McGurk’s Bar in Belfast in December 1971.

In his action, MacAirt says Harris lacks the independence required to be Garda Commissioner due to this role in the PSNI and its predecessor  – the RUC.

That challenge ultimately failed.

But in an interview with Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Radio One this morning, Harris said that his duty is to the Irish people and said himself that he was Irish. 

“I’ve been policing for 34 years so I’m very much here to support and lead the organisation. I want the people on the frontline to know I’m here to support them. We demand a lot from people who join this work – you have to go the extra mile sometimes in dangerous places. We are protecting society from dangerous individuals and dangerous things and it requires people to show courage.”

Harris’s father, who was also a member of the RUC, was killed by the IRA in 1989. He described how he hoped against hope that his father wasn’t dead and that he was just injured instead. His mother was injured in the same car bomb attack. 

‘I’m not an angel’

Harris told O’Callaghan that after his father’s death, he made a promise to himself that he would not “be lost to bitterness” and that his father would have wanted him to continue to uphold the rule of law and not be swayed by his death. 

“I’m not an angel but I tried hard – he would have wanted me to take care of my family and to work hard and that’s what I concentrated on. Over the years – the grief is with you but you can concentrate on doing your job,” he said.

Questioned on the ongoing dissident activity on the island of Ireland – Harris said there is no place for hatred in a new Ireland and that the loyalists and republicans of old should respect democracy. 

“They seek to overturn democracy and seek to do it through violent means and very often driven by hatred. The futility of all that they did – the application of pain and hurt on destruction motivated by hatred did no good whatsoever. 

“Undoubtedly there’s still activity on both sides. That intent still remains. We need to look back to Good Friday Agreement and what it said was a recognition of two traditions. Even my appointment I see it as a natural flow on from it.

We need to retreat from extremism and find commonality between us. There are plenty of threats which seem to be pushing people to extremes all over the world and we have to stand against that. I am Irish – it seems natural to be working here and providing my service in protecting people of Ireland. 

Addressing the mistrust of gardaí in the wake of controversies such as the handling of whistleblowers such as Maurice McCabe and other failings like the breath test scandal, Harris said that he has to lead by example to rebuild a fragile relationship with the public.  

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“There is trust in gardaí, local gardaí and there’s less trust in senior management and myself and I have to work on that. Senior leaders must be an example of behaviours  It’s difficult to control what people think but it is possible to say these are the behaviours I expect and will enforce.

“I want to leave it better than I found it. I want to leave in five years time and that ‘you did well’.”

The new Commissioner, who was officially sworn in at a ceremony on Monday, addressed a number of issues surrounding his appointment at his first press conference this afternoon.

Some have expressed concerns that Harris’ appointment creates a conflict of interest because of an obligation to keep certain intelligence from his previous role secret.

Others have taken issue with his evidence at the Smithwick Tribunal, which found collusion between gardaí and IRA members in the killings of two RUC officers.

However, at this afternoon’s press conference, Harris firmly pledged his allegiance to his new employer and the Irish public.

“I am here to protect the people of Ireland,” he said. “I am here to lead An Garda Síochána in that mission. I’ve said that very unequivocally.

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