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Drew Harris: 'We don't regard a dentist's appointment in Tenerife as being a reasonable excuse to travel'

The garda commissioner also discussed the powers given to gardaí, having Covid-19, and his father’s killing on the Late Late Show.

Source: The Late Late Show/YouTube

GARDA COMMISSIONER DREW Harris has said that gardaí are seeing an “awful lot of compliance” with Covid-19 restrictions, but also witnessing “irresponsible behaviour which is risking lives in the end”. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show, Harris also said that An Garda Síochána does not “regard a dentist’s appointment in Tenerife as being a reasonable excuse to travel”. 

He said he hopes that greater penalties will “send a message” in terms of non-essential international travel. 

Harris made the remarks following reports yesterday that Irish people were booking appointments at a dental clinic on the Spanish island so they can go on holiday. 

He said: “Medical intervention, medical treatment is allowed for in the regulations but that is against the clause about how reasonable it is. I would suggest that travelling to Tenerife, thousands of kilometres, whenever there are perfectly good dentists here in Ireland is not reasonable. From this morning we have changed our approach, we warned people that they may be prosecuted if they carry on on their journey.

We have found that the €500 fine is perhaps not the deterrent we thought it might be, but we found out today that people have turned back rather than be prosecuted and have a criminal record and risk actually imprisonment or a suspended sentence which is far greater penalty than a €500 fixed penalty notice. There is travel for medical purposes which obviously is essential, people travelling for critical treatment.

The Garda Commissioner said that the organisation has “strong operational capability” at present and that they adopted an enforcement approach to situations like shebeens and some travel restrictions in recent times.

When questioned on the potential infringement on civil liberties, Harris said that the gardaí had been given “extraordinary powers” which are “almost beyond imagine 18 months ago”. 

He said: “They make me nervous in so much as we must have some set clauses and cut off points and that’s what’s built into our legislation in any case. There’s a huge amount of checks and balances in our system.”

Harris also discussed his experience of having Covid-19 over Christmas. 

He described it as “mild but unpleasant” and that he counted himself fortunate. 

Father’s death

Harris also told Ryan Tubridy that he has worked hard not to be bitter after his father was killed by the IRA. 

The senior officer’s father Alwyn, a Superintendent in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), died in a car bomb attack in 1989.

Harris had also been an officer in the RUC at the time.

He remained in the force when it became the Police Service of Northern Ireland and rose to the rank of Deputy Chief Constable before taking on the top job at the Garda in 2018.

“It takes a long time to come to terms with something as difficult, as traumatic and as awful in your life, and you carry it with you every day,” he told The Late Late Show.

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“Every day I would think about my father, but in terms of me as a police officer and now the Garda Commissioner, what it means to me is I think I have an empathy for those who have been the victim of serious crime.

“In lots of ways it has had a profound effect on my outlook at to what policing should be … and what we should do for those who are without a voice or might be marginalised in society.”

He said he has worked hard at not being bitter.

“In these things you have perhaps a choice, I was married to Jane, we had our first son and then we had another three children after that, and you have a choice in terms of the household your children are going to grow up into, and so I worked hard at not being bitter,” he said.

“I don’t mean to be smart or clever, or shine a halo when I say that, because it was very difficult and it took a long time to get to that point, but at the same time you have your own life to live and nobody would be more upset than my father if he though I was just living an embittered life.”

Asked if he felt the need to forgive the killers, Harris said he was neutral on that.

“They have never sought atonement, and forgiveness is a two-way street,” he said.

With reporting from the Press Association

About the author:

Sean Murray

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