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'We're here to serve the people, not the organisation' - Drew Harris pens open letter to frontline gardaí

Harris has urged all members to sign the Code of Ethics to send a signal of their commitment to a human rights based service.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

GARDA COMMISSIONER DREW Harris has penned an open letter to frontline gardaí, urging them to engage in reforms and to remember that they serve the people of Ireland – not the organisation. 

In a four-page feature in the Garda Review, Harris said the dedication and commitment among members to protecting and serving local communities has been palpable since he took up the role.

This is the first time in a number of years that a serving Garda Commissioner has written for the Garda Representative Association’s (GRA) monthly publication. 

Harris said it is clear to him that gardaí want organisational change and he said they need to ensure they “individually and collectively have the right behaviours”.

Central to this, he said, is the Code of Ethics written by the Policing Authority. The organisation has been struggling to get frontline gardaí to sign even after they have done the necessary training.

Trust comes from dealing with all people honestly, openly and with empathy and dignity. Trust is hard won, and we need to earn this support each and every day. It cannot be taken for granted. It must be earned. You are our front-line in winning and maintaining the trust of the public.

He said there are “understandable” reasons why some people may not have signed the code, like that they have always behaved ethically and “don’t need to sign a piece of paper to prove it”. 

But he said if all members sign it, it sends a strong signal of the commitment to providing a human right based service. 

“Of course, the right behaviours are set from the top,” he said, adding that any ideas on how to improve should always be listened to by managers and that he has stressed the need for them to get out and talk to their people.

Support from the public

He also took the opportunity to remind frontline gardaí that they are “servants of the people”. 

We are here to serve the people; not ourselves. Not the organisation; the people. How we individually and collectively work with victims of crime, the vulnerable, members of minority communities, and the general public determines the level of support we receive from the public.

Harris has been criticised recently for his decision to cut all discretionary overtime. In his piece in the Garda Review, he said he knows this was not a popular move but there “needs to be realism in the demands being made”. 

“Nearly 90% of the garda budget is spent on pay. That doesn’t leave a huge amount of money left to invest in the development of out people given the size of the organisation. ”

He said the force will introduce new solutions to develop garda training within its limited budget. 

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