‘I’m motivated. I’m here to protect the people of Ireland,’ says Harris

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris believes some of the commentary around him joining the force from the PSNI has been personal and that his job now is to “protect the people of Ireland”.

Speaking to reporters at Garda Headquarters in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, Mr Harris questioned how much of an “outsider” he actually was, saying he regarded himself as Irish.

Asked what he would say to those concerned about somebody from outside the jurisdiction, and who was once the PSNI’s contact officer with MI5, now leading the Garda, Mr Harris said he had taken on the role “in good faith”.

“I’m motivated. I’m here to protect the people of Ireland. And I’m here to lead An Garda Síochána in that mission,” he said.

‘Here to serve’

“I’m here to serve. I’m a public servant and my public service has always been police work. And that’s what I’m here to do.“As a [PSNI] police officer I had a responsibility in law to prevent and detect crime and that involved the sharing of information.

“Yes, I had a role working with the security service. But that was always against the requirements of me under the Police Act as pertains in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Harris, a former PSNI deputy chief constable, was sworn in as a garda and assumed the post of commissioner just after midnight on Monday.

He sat alone as he met the media and said this was because “so much of the commentary” since he was selected to take the job had been “of a personal nature”.

“And I felt it was unfair then to bring my colleagues along into that. These were specific issues I wanted to address alone.”

He also questioned whether he was an “outsider”.

“I am Irish. And I’m not sure how much of an outsider I am really.

“I’m a police officer, I’ve joined a policing organisation, I’m from the island of Ireland.

“I’ve always worked for the benefit of the people of Ireland. And I’ve worked very closely with An Garda Síochána.”

Pressed on whether there was any further intelligence on historical crimes that he had not shared before but he could now share, he said: “No is the short answer to that.”

He also disputed an assertion that Garda morale was at an all-time low, saying issues like more transparent promotion competitions and better uniforms were already being addressed.

Gathering knowledge

Mr Harris said he was determined to lead the Garda as efficiently as he could. The first step towards achieving that was gathering knowledge about how current resources were being used.

“We need to understand where our people are,” he said, adding that assessing the skill levels and requirements in the force was also crucial.

He insisted he would “speak truth to power” by speaking honestly to the Government if more resources were needed.

However, he believed the Garda was generally well resourced.

He accepted that the Garda had already incurred an overspend of some €30 million this year and said he would look at bringing that back in line with available budgets.

Mr Harris gave evidence to the Smithwick Tribunal in 2012, telling it intelligence suggested Garda members had colluded in the 1989 murders of two RUC officers shortly after leaving Dundalk Garda station.

Asked about this, he said he gave his evidence on behalf of the PSNI and faced lengthy cross-examination.

IRA ambush

The tribunal concluded there had been collusion by unknown Garda members in supplying information that aided the IRA ambush on the officers just north of the Border on the day in question.On the issue of Brexit, Mr Harris said he was mindful that differences in taxes and tariffs on both sides of the Border may play into the hands of organised criminals, namely smugglers.

He said dissident republicans still posed a threat and their activities were a bigger issue than that posed by international terrorism.