Belfast Telegraph

Grandson of 1971 bar massacre victim launches legal bid to block Harris being named Garda chief

By Staff Reporter

A relative of a woman killed in the McGurk's bar attack has brought a challenge at the High Court in Dublin aimed at preventing the appointment of PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris as the next Garda Commissioner.

The action was brought by researcher Ciaran MacAirt whose grandmother Kathleen Irvine was one of 15 murdered when a loyalist bomb exploded at the Belfast pub in December 1971.

In his action, Mr MacAirt alleges Mr Harris lacks the independence required to be Garda Commissioner due to his career in the PSNI and the RUC.

His lawyer Gerard Humphreys claims Mr Harris could not direct or control any ongoing investigation into the murder of an Irish citizen where there is credible evidence of collusion between killers and the RUC or agencies of the British State, such as the Dublin-Monaghan bombs of 1974.

Counsel said it is believed the appointment will take place in September.

He alleges that due to his senior role with the PSNI, Mr Harris has possession of information directly relevant to Garda investigations into the murder of Irish citizens during the Troubles.

It is also claimed that Mr Harris has signed and is bound by the UK's Offical Secrets Act making it impossible to fully discharge his duties as the next Garda Commissioner.

This conflict, it is claimed, is incompatible with the duties of Section 5 of the Garda Siochana Act, in particular to state security and the investigation of crime.

Mr MacAirt, who says he was shocked by the decision to appoint Mr Harris, says he has researched and written a book about the McGurk's bar bombing and is a director of a charity which supports victims and survivors of the Troubles.

He claims that he has been trying to establish the truth behind the bombing.

The RUC initially said the McGurk's bar explosion was an IRA bomb that was accidentally detonated when, in fact, it was deliberately planted in the bar by the UVF. One of its members, Robert Campbell, was jailed for the atrocity in 1977.

However, Mr MacAirt says there was never a proper investigation into the bombing, and claims there was an RUC cover-up over the atrocity. He claims his efforts to find the truth have been frustrated by the RUC's successors, the PSNI.

It is claimed that as part of his role with the PSNI, Mr Harris had responsibility for the PSNI's Historical Enquiries Team (HET), which investigated the bombing. It produced four reports, which Mr McAirt says Mr Harris had the final say over, into the bombings.

The four reports, he said, were all rejected by survivors of the bombing and victims' relatives as allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the RUC were not addressed.

Mr Harris's role in the investigation into the murder of Irish citizens, he says, makes it impossible for him to hold the position of Garda Commissioner.

In his action against the Irish Minister for Justice and the Irish Attorney General, Mr McAirt seeks various orders including one quashing the decision to appoint Mr Harris as Commissioner of An Garda Siochana.

In the alternative, he seeks an order preventing Mr Harris having any role in the direction and control of the Garda investigation into the murder of Irish citizens where there is credible evidence of collusion by the RUC or other agencies of the British state in the murder.

He also seeks declarations that the Irish State is obliged to conduct independent investigations into the murders of Irish citizens where there is credible evidence of collusion.

He further seeks a declaration that due to his obligations under the UK's Official Secrets Act and his role in the protection of the PSNI, the RUC and other agencies of the UK, Mr Harris would be incapable of controlling an independent investigation into the murder of those Irish citizens where collusion was alleged.

The matter came before yesterday's sitting of the High Court in Dublin. The judge granted permission for Mr MacAirt's lawyers to make an application for leave to bring his judicial proceedings on notice to the state respondents. The matter will return before the court on Tuesday.

Belfast Telegraph

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