Belfast Telegraph

Dissident republicans remain greatest threat says new Garda chief Harris

The 53-year-old addressed concerns about his key role within MI5.

New Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has attempted to quash concerns about his links to British intelligence services, saying he has reported wrongdoing by security forces on “many occasions”.

On his second day in the role as head of Ireland’s police force, the 53-year-old addressed concerns about his key role within MI5 – saying that he always worked to “prevent and detect” crime.

The former deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was asked about his previous roles as he takes the lead role in An Garda Siochanna.

“I’ve always been a police officer, it has always been my responsibility to prevent and detect crime and I have always done that,” he said.

“If any time I have ever found any wrongdoing of any nature, involving anyone and in this case which finger points towards wrongdoing by security forces, it would be my responsibility to report that to Police Ombudsman and I have done that on many occasions where I felt there was wrongdoing.”

Mr Harris addressed the media for around 30 minutes on Tuesday at the Garda Headquarters in Phoenix Park in Dublin.

He referred to a number of concerns that have been raised following his appointment to the role of Commissioner.

A number of survivors and victims of Loyalist attacks questioned his suitability because of his previous role in the PSNI and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

“I’m very aware of the concerns some have raised, throughout my policing career I have acted with impartiality, I have brought many loyalist terrorists to justice and I have secured convictions – and these crimes have been atrocious crimes and I have been diligent and persistent in the investigation of those,” he added.

“I understand the hurt that remains with those victims. I can assure them of my integrity in what I was doing as a PSNI officer and RUC officer.”

Mr Harris is the first Garda Commissioner to be appointed from outside the State.

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New Garda Commissioner Drew Harris arrives for a press conference (Liam McBurney/PA)

When asked whether he considers himself Irish, he said: “Yes, I am Irish.

“I’m not sure how much of an outsider I am really. I’m a police officer, I’m from the island of Ireland and have worked for the benefit of people of Ireland.

“I’m here to lead the organisation.”

He added that he believes Irish politicians are “fully behind” him in his role as commissioner.

When probed further about his intelligence regarding terrorist murders in the Republic of Ireland and his obligation to pass on information, he said that he has “no other” intelligence to share with the Gardai.

He added: “That obligation would have been a live obligation with the PSNI. Intelligence is constantly exchanged between both police services or via the security service.

“I could highlight numerous cross-border operations where we exchange very sensitive intelligence and work very closely on joint operations and that prevented many terrorist outrages and very serious organised crime.

“The matters I was aware of with PSNI are always dealt with properly.”

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New Garda Commissioner Drew Harris addressing the gathered media (Liam McBurney/PA)

He said he is here “to protect the people of Ireland” and will serve the public in “good faith”.

Mr Harris said that dissident republicans remain the biggest threat on the island of Ireland and are “determined” to carry out attacks.

He raised a number of areas he will focus on over the coming years – including the threat from dissident republicans, organised crime and the threat from international terrorists.

He also spoke of his plans to address how Garda Siochanna is spending its budget and how it will deal with Brexit.

“This is an area of focus, our planning process is under way. Not all of the responsibility of Brexit, of whatever nature, will fall to Garda Siochanna, but we have to be concerned with police-to-police cooperation at a local level with PSNI and how we secure border areas and we have to be aware of organised crime,” he added.

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