New Garda chief has earned the right to have our full support
A BOY loses his father in an IRA atrocity, only by a stroke of chance his mother survives. One might predict a number of possible career paths for the almost orphaned boy, but none would be more improbable than the one he would ultimately take. To eventually become the chief of police in the jurisdiction his father’s murderers were bound to would have been inconceivable in the depths of the Troubles in 1989. But that has been the extraordinary journey undertaken by Drew Harris, whom has just been named as our new Garda Commissioner.
At the funeral Mass of Mr Harris’s father, Alwyn, whose Vauxhall car was blown up by the IRA, Dr Howard Cromie noted: “As a community, we are tired of the humbug and hypocrisy of those who say after every outrage that terrorism will be defeated and yet who steadfastly refuse to allow the security forces to take the action necessary to bring such terrorism to an end.”
To say terrorism is over for good is to tempt fate, but the appointment of the murdered RUC officer’s son to lead an unarmed police force on this island suggests that we have come a very long way.
THE fact that Mr Harris will be the third Commissioner inside four years speaks to a force in crisis. Commissioner Harris professionally and personally is unlikely to be fazed by his task.
As deputy chief of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, he has worked at the interface where politics and policing often collide. He was at the forefront of building trust and making the PSNI acceptable across communities. Announcing the appointment, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “Drew takes up office at a time of major reform and investment which will redefine An Garda Síochána as an organisation. As we approach the centenary of the establishment of An Garda Síochána, the organisation is on the cusp of significant change.”
If anything this is an understatement. The Garda needs a fresh start and complete overhaul, as evidenced by the fact that it has featured in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent years.
It is the kind of radical root and branch change that someone from outside the State would be best suited to oversee. Mr Harris will need to draw on every one of his 34 years of policing experience. His appointment marks a new departure. The force has been dogged by problems relating to discipline and low morale.
It sank to a new low when threatened by strike action over pay and conditions. The State blinked, but we have also had a scandal surrounding financial revelations at the Garda Training College in Templemore.
Nor did the emergence of millions of bogus breathalyser figures do anything to improve the reputation of the once proud force. The role of policing has changed, where once the focus was on protecting the State against subversives, today the primary duty is civil policing. A heavy emphasis on State security guaranteed unwelcome and unwarranted political interference. This too must change.
A re-balancing and re-direction of relationships is overdue. Yet every attempt at significant change has been resisted. Even recommendations from the Garda Inspectorate were ignored. The Government appointed a special commission on the future of policing last year – its work is almost complete. Its findings must be implemented.
Our previous two commissioners – Martin Callinan and Nóirín O’Sullivan – both bowed out amid controversy. There can be no illusions about the difficult work ahead, but it is essential, and Mr Harris deserves full support and respect, after all he has earned it