Harris moves to clear air with media meeting by Conor Lally Irish Times

Many issues were brought up but new commissioner dealt with them

Sitting alone at a small table in the plush officers’ club inside Garda Headquarters in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris faced the media.

He emerged 40 minutes later in good order. Not one glove was laid on him and at no point did he sound even the least bit flustered.

A slight shaking in his hands was the only sign of the pressure he was under, facing a press pack numbering about 40; all throwing in quick-fire questions to elicit a news line and get the measure of the new man.

Harris was a Garda member less than 48 hours but he was already setting out his vision for the force for the next three to five years; at times hard to hear over the chorus of camera shutters.

He was called on to explain and justify his appointment. He did both; apparently in the knowledge he needed to be open about it.

Has secrets

The relatives of some murder victims of the Troubles have already complained Harris was involved in ensuring the PSNI blocked the release of files with vital information on their cases.Others have questioned if he has secrets in his head that could greatly aid the Garda’s inquiries into historical atrocities if he’d only share that information.

And there have also been concerns that his appointment is a risk for State security as he was the PSNI’s link with British security service MI5.

All of these issues were thrown at Harris yesterday and he faced them down.

He said he had no information on historical cases, pointing out anything the PSNI could share with the Garda had been handed over down the years.

And he insisted he had no secrets in his head that could solve old cases.

On the issue of MI5; he said he liaised with it because it was his job at the time and he had legal obligations that no longer bind him.

Smithwick Tribunal

Ditto with his evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal, which suggested Garda members colluded in the murders of two RUC officers by the IRA in 1989.He said it was his job to represent the PSNI at the tribunal. But he was a PSNI man no more.

The Garda was now his team.

He was in the Republic to serve and lead policing; a role not new to him on an island not new to him, as he was keen to point out.

Harris chatted over cups of coffee with journalists before what was effectively a press conference began.

He read a brief statement about wanting a police force that was open and transparent.

There followed question time with everyone getting their turn and nothing ruled out of order.

It had the air of a new start on a bright and crisp day in Garda Headquarters.

The short-term outlook is for more of the same.

The longer term will depend on himself and events.

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