Appointment of New Garda Commissioner – Drew Harris

Harris beat strong internal competition from deputy and assistant commissioners

From Today’s Irish Times – Sarah Bardon, & Conor Lally

The Government expects newly appointed Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to recruit his own leadership team when he takes up his position later this year.

In a significant departure for An Garda Síochána, an external candidate was chosen for the role of commissioner for the first time, with Mr Harris beating strong internal competition from Deputy Commissioner John Twomey and Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy.

It is a sea change for the Garda to have a leader from another jurisdiction and it is the first time in its history, but political sources said Mr Harris’s profile as someone from outside but with close knowledge of the force made him ideal for the role.

Government figures said they were “hopeful” Mr Harris would recruit his own team to assist with his new position. All resources would be made available to ensure that happened, one stressed. However, this is likely to be contentious for many in the force.

Selection process

The selection process was independent of Government, but Ministers enthusiastically welcomed the move yesterday with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hailing the appointment from the steps of Government Buildings.

The Cabinet yesterday ratified the appointment of Mr Harris, who is currently the Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, nine months after the departure of former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan from the role.

Mr Harris will replace Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, who will be retiring in September. Mr Harris will be paid a salary of €250,000.

Mr Varadkar defended the decision to appoint an outsider to the role and to oversee the State’s national security.

He insisted Mr Harris would be “loyal to the police and loyal to the State” and would steer policing in the right direction.

“It is a good moment for Irish policing, it is an opportunity for new leadership and for policing for the community,” Mr Varadkar added.

Dual citizenship

On taking up the post, Mr Harris will be required to make a solemn declaration under section 16 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 including to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State. Mr Harris is entitled to dual Irish and British citizenship because he was born in Northern Ireland, and a Government spokesman confirmed he had applied for an Irish passport.

Mr Harris was one of five individuals in the final round of interviews for the role. Assistant Commissioner Leahy and Deputy Commissioner Twomey were the only two internal candidates to make through to the last stage of the competition. The others were based in Scotland and England. However it is understood one of those withdrew in recent weeks.

Mr Harris has served principally in Northern Ireland, including 12 years in senior leadership roles. He has served as Deputy Chief Constable since 2014, where he is believed to have worked closely with the British security services.

His father, also an RUC officer, was killed in an IRA car bomb in 1989. His mother survived the attack.

Garda sources said Mr Harris would be a target for dissident Republicans, whose stated aim has been to attack the security services of Northern Ireland.

It’s a hell of a job he’s taking on. That was the verdict of a source close to incoming Garda Commissioner Drew Harris OBE; a 53-year-old Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) senior officer who joined that organisation when it was the RUC.

His new role at the top of the Garda will carry a total salary of €1.25 million over the five-year span of his contract, some €250,000 a year. In his current role as PSNI Deputy Chief Constable, he earns €180,000.

Ruffling feathers

While the appointment of a PSNI member to the most senior Garda post will be seen as controversial in some quarters, Harris is no stranger to his appointments ruffling feathers.

When he was promoted to his current role, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane withdrew from the policing board panel that would go on to select Harris, saying she believed the process may have been compromised.

However, this was rejected, and Harris, regarded as a modest and quiet officer, got the job. He will be in Deputy Chief Constable role for four years by the time he steps down to become the next commissioner of An Garda Síochána in September.

How Sinn Féin in the Republic greet his appointment, and possibly work with him if they are in government after the next election, will be fascinating.

Some in the party resented Harris for the 2014 arrest of Gerry Adams, in connection with the 1972 abduction and disappearance by murder of Jean McConville. They believed Harris was responsible for the decision to arrest, rather than simply interview, Adams.

Investigation

Earlier this year, Harris and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton were cleared of allegations of criminal activity and misconduct in public office, after an investigation by the North’s police ombudsman into complaints over a PSNI bribery inquiry. In 2012, he gave controversial evidence to the Smithwick tribunal in Dublin. It was investigating possible Garda collusion with the IRA in the murders of RUC officers Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan in March, 1989, shortly after they left Dundalk Garda station.

Harris gave evidence in closed session, later made public but in redacted form, relating to PSNI intelligence reports.

A précis of the first intelligence report claimed the Provisional IRA “traditionally obtained good intelligence from Dundalk Garda station”. A second suggested well-known republican Patrick “Mooch” Blair had claimed there was a “Garda spy” involved in the murders of the RUC officers.

Lawyers for then Garda commissioner Martin Callinan said the evidence amounted to “nonsense on stilts”.

However, Judge Peter Smithwick concluded in his final report that, on the balance of probabilities, there was collusion between unnamed and unknown Garda members based in Dundalk and the IRA in the murders of the two officers.

While the matter was very controversial, relations between the Garda and the PSNI have grown stronger in the intervening years.

A married man with four children, Harris has almost 16 years’ experience in senior management roles in the PSNI.

Intelligence branch

Before becoming Deputy Chief Constable in 2014 he was assistant chief constable, from 2006, and worked closely with MI5.

He was in command of the PSNI Crime Operations Department which included the force’s intelligence branch, major investigation teams and specialist operations branch – all at the coal face of combating terrorism and other serious crimes. Harris received an OBE in Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honours list in 2010.

He is from a policing family; his father was murdered in an IRA bombing at the height of the Troubles. RUC Supt Alwyn Harris was killed in October, 1989, in a targeted attack.

A Semtex car bomb exploded under the family Vauxhall Carlton while he and his wife were driving to a Sunday church service.

Drew Harris’s mother survived the blast that killed his 51-year-old father on the way to a Harvest Thanksgiving service near their home in Lisburn.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris has been appointed Garda Commissioner for a five-year term.

He will be paid €250,000 a year, a significant increase on the €180,000 he currently earns. Mr Harris will take up his new role in September.

Mr Harris is also permitted to bring his own team into the Garda, though it was unclear if he would take up that option.

Aged 53, he has been a member of the PSNI since he was 19 and served all but two of the intervening years policing in the North.

Some 16 years ago, he spent time away from the PSNI when he completed a two-year secondment as a police officer in Scotland.

His RUC officer father was killed in an IRA car bomb in 1989.

Mr Harris will lead the Garda after years of controversy and during a period when it is intended the organisation undergoes unprecedented reform.

Some of those changes, in a modernisation programme, were commenced by former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Other reforms, which could include taking State security out of the Garda and into a separate entity, will be unveiled in September when the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland reports.

Reform programme

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described Mr Harris’s appointment as “an opportunity for new leadership and improved policing in our communities”. He added: “He will drive forward our reform programme for An Garda Síochána. His appointment is a good day for Irish policing.”

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said Mr Harris would take up his role at a “critical time” for the Garda.

“Drew can be assured of my support and that of the Government as he faces the challenge of transforming An Garda Síochána so that it becomes a model of policing excellence, equipped to deal with the huge range of challenges facing police services worldwide.”

Very satisfied

Mr Harris was appointed under a new recruitment process, devised by the Policing Authority and run by the Public Appointments Service.

Chairwoman of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily said her agency was “very satisfied” to recommend Mr Harris to Government for its consideration and approval.

She was “heartened” by the number of internal and external candidates who had put themselves forward for consideration.

“We look forward to getting to know [Mr Harris] and to working with him in achieving our shared objective of ensuring a modern, professional Garda service which continues to enjoy the trust of the Irish people,” she said.

Mr Harris, a married father of four grown-up children, is originally from Lisburn.

His appointment represents the first time somebody from outside the State has been recruited into the Garda to lead it.

However, it is not the first time a candidate from outside the force has become commissioner as two civil servants were previously drafted into the Garda to lead it. Michael Kinnane was commissioner from 1938 to 1952; Daniel Costigan held the job for 13 years to 1965.

Irish Independent today – Conor Brady &

New Garda chief free to recruit his own team of top officers

Confidence that ‘outsider’ can help bring fresh thinking to job

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said the new Garda commissioner’s MI5 background will help fight gangland crime here.

Drew Harris, deputy chief constable with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), will take up his new role in September. His current position in the North means he has a working relationship with Britain’s intelligence service MI5.

Mr Varadkar said the new appointee’s background in intelligence will help in the fight against gangland crime, an issue that has dominated policing here since the outbreak of the deadly Kinahan-Hutch feud.

Mr Varadkar also insisted the Government was determined to appoint the “best person for the job”, regardless of where they came from.

The new commissioner, who will take over from Nóirín O’Sullivan, will take up his role following a spate of controversies, including the Garda breath test scandal, that have rocked public confidence in the force. TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said the incoming Garda commissioner’s MI5 background will help fight gangland crime here.

Drew Harris, deputy chief constable with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), will take up the role in September.

His current position in the North means he has a working relationship with Britain’s intelligence service MI5.

Mr Varadkar also backed the new appointee’s ability to clamp down on gangland crime, an issue that has dominated policing here following the outbreak of the deadly Kinahan-Hutch feud that has claimed lives both at home and abroad.

“The new commissioner won’t be working on his own… there are some really good people in senior positions in An Garda Síochána who will remain in position,” Mr Varadkar said.

The new Garda chief’s background in intelligence will also be of benefit as he looks to tackle gangs, the Taoiseach said.

When asked if Mr Harris has any plans to take measures to dispel any concerns people may have over where his loyalties lie, Mr Varadkar said: “The Government took a decision a few months ago that we wanted an open competition and we wanted an international competition – we wanted the best person for the job no matter where that person came from.

“Drew Harris is the best person for the job.”

The Irish Independent understands that he has applied for an Irish passport.

Mr Harris was subject to strict due diligence, which included background checks as would be expected, the Fine Gael leader said.

“We’re absolutely confident that the new commissioner will be loyal to the police and loyal to the State,” he said.

The new Garda commissioner, who will take over from Nóirín O’Sullivan, will take up his position following a spate of controversies, including the Garda breath test scandal, that have rocked public confidence in the force.

Welcoming his appointment, both the Taoiseach and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan referred to the ongoing change that is under way in the force.

The Taoiseach said his appointment would allow for a “new direction” in Irish policing.

Mr Harris has the set of skills necessary to drive reform, enhanced oversight and transparency, Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Harris’s start in the role will coincide with the report of the expert Commission on the Future of Policing.

“The reform programme continues apace,” Mr Flanagan said, adding that he believes An Garda Síochána is on “the cusp of major change”.

Mr Harris’s appointment was hailed by the Government as “historic”.

He is the first commissioner to be appointed to the role following a new process involving the Public Appointments Service on behalf of the Policing Authority.

He is also the first ‘outsider’ to take up the role as head of the force, and will do so on a salary of €250,000 a year. The annual salary was increased from €180,000 in order to attract interest in the position after the departure of Ms O’Sullivan.

Mr Harris’s appointment was welcomed by the Labour Party, which said his background showed “further welcome sign of the normalisation of relations on this island since the Good Friday Agreement” and called on him to “inject new thinking” into the force.

Fianna Fáil also welcomed the appointment and said “it is important that during his tenure the necessary reforms of the organisation are continued”.

Sinn Féin said the party “will work constructively” with him and will “hold him to account”.

THE Government will be hoping that incoming Garda commissioner Drew Harris can help transform An Garda Síochána in much the same way he has assisted in the wholesale transformation of the PSNI in recent years.

Deputy Chief Constable Harris has been with the PSNI and its predecessor, the RUC, for 34 years. For the past 16 of those he has occupied senior management roles.

In that period the PSNI has gone from being an organisation which did not enjoy the confidence of a considerable portion of the population to one of the most accountable forces in the EU.

Almost a third of its officers now come from Catholic backgrounds.

Mr Harris has bitter personal experience of the Troubles. His father, RUC superintendent Alwyn Harris, was murdered in an IRA car bomb attack close to his Lisburn home in 1989.

However, he comes to the job of Garda commissioner with a reputation of being a “quiet man” who is willing to work with whoever he needs to achieve positive outcomes.

It is noteworthy Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan identified Mr Harris’s “change management experiences” in the same breath as his track record in policing and security when announcing the appointment.

Mr Harris will be tasked with drawing a halt to the seemingly unending cycle of Garda controversies that have dogged the force and toppled two commissioners in recent years.

His taking up of the job in September will coincide with the report of the expert Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, which could bring about the biggest shake-up in the history of An Garda Síochána. The commission has been examining the structure of the force, its culture and ethos, recruitment policies, and how officers are trained and managed, as well as the adequacy of the powers of oversight bodies such as the Policing Authority and the Garda Ombudsman.

If the task facing Mr Harris was not daunting enough, he is likely to have an overflowing in-tray once the commission reports.

The 53-year-old is a married father-of-four who became deputy chief constable in 2014. Prior to that, he spent eight years as assistant chief constable, commanding the Crime Operations Department. It was a role in which he worked closely with M15, the UK’s security agency, in tackling paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.

Now Mr Harris is set to be entrusted with the intelligence secrets of the Irish State, a unique situation for an outsider to find themselves in. This does not seem to be an issue for the Government, which says Mr Harris will fulfil the full functions of commissioner “including safeguarding the security of the State”.

Mr Harris will have to make a solemn declaration to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Ireland on the day his appointment takes effect.

It will help Mr Harris that he has considerable knowledge of the force already, having worked closely with senior Gardaí on cross-border terrorism issues.

He also brings with him a wealth of qualifications, holding an MA in Criminology from Cambridge University, as well as leadership and public policy qualifications from the FBI National Executive Institute.

New Garda chief ‘will use MI5 experience to tackle gangland feud’ ‘Quiet man’ well versed with change to be thrust into middle of historic shake-up

Now Mr Harris is set to be entrusted with the intelligence secrets of the Irish State, a unique situation for an outsider to find themselves in. This does not seem to be an issue for the Government, which says Mr Harris will fulfil the full functions of commissioner “including safeguarding the security of the State”.

Mr Harris will have to make a solemn declaration to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Ireland on the day his appointment takes effect.

It will help Mr Harris that he has considerable knowledge of the force already, having worked closely with senior Gardaí on cross-border terrorism issues.

He also brings with him a wealth of qualifications, holding an MA in Criminology from Cambridge University, as well as leadership and public policy qualifications from the FBI National Executive Institute.

Appointment of former RUC officer will be a huge shock to many in the force

THE appointment of a former RUC officer with close links to British intelligence will come as a huge shock to many members of An Garda Síochána.

The current PSNI deputy chief constable, Drew Harris, was known to be a front runner among the external candidates for the post, which becomes vacant in September. But few expected the appointment to go to a serving officer from “across the Border”.

Similarly, it was not a surprise in Northern Ireland when serving assistant Garda commissioner Derek Byrne failed to secure the top job with the PSNI, and he was deemed to have performed very creditably to manage to get into the final three.

But despite that, all ranks of the Garda force will rally around Mr Harris when he succeeds existing Acting Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin, who is retiring. The rank-and-file Garda Representative Association made it clear at its annual conference last month its focus was on the appointment of a serving police officer rather than a civilian.

The association repeated that view yesterday, when it said it was pleased to note that Mr Harris is a police officer with proven senior operational and management experience on the island.

For several years, Mr Harris has been known to senior Garda management and its key officers on the security side to be the “go-to” man in the PSNI when examining issues of mutual interest. He has served in the RUC and then the PSNI for 35 years and as an assistant chief constable, he was in charge of crime operations for eight years. After promotion to deputy chief constable, he was also responsible for intelligence gathering and operational support and worked closely with Britain’s MI5, as well as being in regular contact with Garda Headquarters.

However, this strong working relationship with the Garda was challenged when he made a dramatic last-minute intervention in the Smithwick Tribunal, which investigated allegations of collusion between a member or members of the Garda and the Provisional IRA.

It was alleged that this collusion played a big part in the ambush and murder of two senior RUC officers, Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan, by the IRA as they were returning across the Border from a meeting with gardaí at Dundalk on March 20, 1989.

The tribunal spent eight years probing into the claims that the murders were the

result of a garda tip-off to the terrorists. Towards the end of the tribunal, Mr Harris introduced startling new evidence in private.

This suggested that there was an unknown informant. At the final day of the public hearings, senior counsel for the Garda described the allegations as “not merely nonsense, but nonsense on stilts” and accused the PSNI of failing to co-operate fully with the tribunal.

However, the tribunal found there had been collusion – but ruled that none of the three gardaí named during the hearings was the informant, who remained unidentified.

As a survivor of the radical transformation of his own force, as it changed from the RUC to the PSNI, Mr Harris will be well equipped to confront the agenda of reform that has been promised for the Garda.

He is also well versed in tackling the threat from dissident terrorists, but he must face a new operational challenge in leading the fight against the feuding gangland outfits, whose murderous activities have already led to a successful overhaul of the Garda response.

3 Responses to Appointment of New Garda Commissioner – Drew Harris

  1. John June 27, 2018 at 11:58 pm #

    Appointment of new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, Deputy Chief Constable Police Service of Northern Ireland.

    Shock Waves

    The appointment of Drew Harris has sent shock waves through the Garda Síochána because it was generally assumed that the State Security role of the GS would preclude such an appointment. Naturally individual candidates will feel chastened somewhat, considering their undoubted ambitions for the top job. Politically this appointment may be seen as an offering to the Unionist community as an example of southern glasnost, a willingness to embrace inclusive change on the island

    Challenges

    It would be churlish not to congratulate Mr. Harris on his pending appointment and to recognise the very serious challenges which he faces. There challenges are internal to the organisation and external to the Department of Justice and government. I hold the view that there are very serious structural impediments to progress in the Criminal Justice field not least the obvious shortcomings in the Department of Justice itself which were highlighted in the Toland Report in 2014. Mr. Harris will have to deal with these matters and also he will have to deal with the overpopulated oversight footprint on the Garda Síochána which has become a an industry in itself.

    Distinguished Police Officer

    There is no doubt that he is a distinguished police officer with a serious track record and but he is formally aligned with the British Security Services as part of his current and previous roles in the PSNI. He undoubtedly holds strong personal views regarding terrorism. His father Alwyn a serving RUC officer was murdered by the IRA in 1989.

    State Security

    The strategic decision for government requires some analysis considering the State Security role of the Garda Síochána. State security is a matter of fundamental sovereign importance. There are no circumstances in which any country would place an individual directly connected to the security services of a foreign country as head of their domestic security services. Does this mean that government has already decided to split the Security and Intelligence function from the GS ? Does this mean that the Commission on the future of Policing chaired by Chief Kathleen O’Toole has already signalled this option?

    Legacy

    There are significant legacy issues which will be impacted by this decision. Drew Harris as Assistant Chief Constable PSNI gave evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal relating to the murders of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan in 1989 and the question of garda collusion with the PIRA. This was extraordinary evidence in many ways and it had the effect of moving the tribunals findings away from members of the GS named before the tribunal to an unnamed officer. This evidence was read into the Tribunal record on the 18.10.2012 Day 124 and it contained the following quote commencing at line 206.
    “Intelligence relating to PIRA indicates that PIRA had received information regarding Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan from a detective AGS officer who had not been publicly associated to the Smithwick Tribunal, and that this individual has been paid a considerable amount of finance for this information.”
    And at line 212 a failure to identify the offending garda detective.

    “And do I understand your evidence reaffirmed today, that as of today, even, you don’t know the identity in any way, shape or form of this guard who has been referred to as a fourth guard, if I can put it like that? No, I am unable to assist the Inquiry in respect of this strand of information on the fourth guard, no.”
    Is it now reasonable to assume that the new commissioner will initiate the necessary inquiries to identify this person? Judge Smithwick did not pursue this information to a conclusion and more is the pity.
    There are very significant legacy issues in Northern Ireland for which he has specialist and unique information. These include Operation Kenova inquiring into the crimes of Stakeknife the British agent in the heart of the PIRA and the border murder of Tom Oliver. How is he going to use this information?
    Garda Opinion
    I recently attended the Annual Delegate meeting of the GSRMA, the garda retired association with delegates from all over the country. There were number of resolutions on the agenda which deplored the level of media criticism directed at the GS. This is a matter which deeply offends the wider garda family. One colleague made a strong and compelling intervention to say that we are to blame when we don’t condemn bad practice ourselves. He was really hitting at the need to “speak truth to power” and call it as it is when we are obviously wrong. There is no disguising the fact that Criminal Justice system has failed badly in recent times in recognising red flag issues and being too defensive.
    Important questions relate to whether Drew Harris will receive support internally in the GS and will he get wider public support. He is familiar with the force and he did attend the recent Annual Garda Remembrance ceremonies in Dublin Castle for fallen colleagues. His first pronouncements will be viewed with considerable interest and not a little scepticism.

    Selection Process

    The selection process itself was a secretive one with an interview panel of eight people including the Secretary General to the Government, a former Secretary of the Department of Justice and the Chairperson of the Policing Authority. The hand of official Ireland was firmly on this tiller. All attempts at getting qualitative information were rebuffed on the basis of standard practice. Certainly I asked a number of key questions under Freedom of Information which were politely but firmly rejected. There is no provision for a confirmatory process but government does need to explain its position on state security access.

  2. timothy June 28, 2018 at 10:38 pm #

    This is a good appointment and I wish new Commissioner Harris well. Hopefully he will have an independence and support to do a good job. Cronyism and favouritism caused much of the previous problems and what’s coming from the tribunals reflects this. Proper recognition of staff associations and welfare is a vital element towards overall efficiency.

  3. patrick joseph mc June 29, 2018 at 9:59 am #

    Some of us were innocent when we joined as teenagers in the 60s and did election duty and being to young to vote. It was drilled into our young heads that our primary function was Prevention and the law was to be enforced without fear favour malice or ill will. Today Investigations and public relations have taken over.I recently checked my class to discover 20 per cent that wore the uniform left in the first 16 years without pension entitlement. In the Summer Siochain there are some great articles which shows the garda contribution over the years. Over the years the Gardai Siochana operated with outdated laws and lack of physical resources on the ground .I remember several days over the decades where members did not get a meal break as the public came first . At the moment the Gardai have so many people telling them how to their job but none ever costs their particular wish list , I still believe the Gardai that dealt with everything is the most important asset to have

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