As published in Sunday Business Post – Sunday 16th. September 2018

Legitimate Questions

The arrival of Commissioner Drew Harris has been somewhat of a media fest. He has conducted himself very competently as one would expect from a senior British police officer. Indeed he and his family have been wished well from all sides including by the Garda Retired Association (GSRMA). Surely this approach is no more than good old fashioned common courtesy requires.

There are legitimate questions to be asked of him and indeed of the government. In some instances these questions can be uncomfortable but they certainly require direct answers. His testimony to the Smithwick Tribunal in 2012 is one such instance where amongst other allegations he said the following, “Separate intelligence indicates that a senior AGS member in Dundalk provided the IRA with the intelligence that enabled PIRA to murder Chief Superintendent Breen and Superintendent Buchanan.”

This is a murder indictment of unnamed Gardaí who were attached to Dundalk station on the 20th March 1989. In simple terms the question for Mr. Harris is whether or not he stands over this and other allegations made at the same time? His response and that of other officials is that Judge Smithwick has spoken and that really is the end of that matter. This is not the question which is being asked.

Now it should be appreciated that the Smithwick Report was not debated in Dáil Eireann as was required. The conclusions of report itself are self-contradictory and puzzling because the Judge also said that “the Tribunal has not uncovered direct evidence of collusion” … and that “The intelligence material is in no way conclusive or determinative of the issues before me” … Nevertheless he went on to make a general and inexplicable finding of collusion and he relied heavily on the evidence of the then Assistant Chief Constable Harris.

Mr. Harris refused to provide the provenance of his allegations to the tribunal and that was a departure from previous practice . He has said in the course of recent media interviews that he has no further information to share with the southern authorities, well clearly he knows the provenance of his testimony to Smithwick. Definitively he has a duty to disclose that information now and to pursue a criminal investigation of the alleged wrongdoers.

He is well aware of the robust efforts undertaken by his retired colleagues of the RUC to defend themselves against claims of “collusion” in that jurisdiction. He should expect no less from retired member of the Garda Síochána.

Perhaps it is now long past time that the Smithwick Report should be debated in the Dáil where all the issues can be ventilated once and for all. Indeed the Justice committee could play a very useful role in that regard.

In fairness to Mr. Harris these allegations should be put to bed once and for all otherwise they will surface repeatedly. That prospect cannot be good for the reform agenda or indeed for the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing.

The government need for their part to explain definitively what security vetting process was undertaken in the course of the competition for the new commissioner. The chair of the Policing Authority claimed that the Department of Justice did it and the Minister for Justice claimed the Gardaí did. There is no system of “Developed Security Vetting “in place here, so how was this possible?

The Policing Authority at whose behest the competition was organised do not have legal competence in the area of security and yet they undertook to fill the post of the Head of Security in the Garda Síochána.

How does this seem a reasonable proposition?