Belfast Telegraph

'To listen to Mrs McDonald you wouldn’t know that the IRA existed' - Doug Beattie hits back at Sinn Fein's Drew Harris Comments

By Gareth Cross

UUP MLA Doug Beattie has hit back at Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald after she called for incoming Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to make a statement in response to the concerns expressed by victims of state collusion.

Mr Beattie, a former British soldier, said that Mrs McDonald "should start a little closer to home, by encouraging the IRA wing of the republican movement to tell what it knows about its 30 years of terror".

“To listen to Mrs McDonald you wouldn’t know that the IRA existed, murdered 1,800 people and injured tens of thousands more," Mr Beattie said.

Speaking during Leaders' Questions in the Dail on Wednesday, Mrs McDonald said that Mr Harris must ensure he does not replicate the "toxic culture of the RUC" in his new role.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar responded to the comments saying that he was disappointed with Sinn Fein's position which he said was "almost in the space of trying to undermine confidence in the new Garda Commissioner before he has even taken up office".

Mr Harris has spent 34 years as a police officer in both the RUC and the PSNI. He has also worked on placement in Scotland and undergone training with the FBI.

His father Alwyn, also a senior RUC officer, was killed by an IRA bomb in 1989.

Speaking later on Wednesday Ms McDonald cited the serious concerns expressed by Stephen Travers of the Miami Showband and the Relatives For Justice group.

Five people membered of the Miami Showband were killed by the UVF in Co Down in July 1975.

Survivor Stephen Travers said that Mr Harris had blocked efforts to get to the truth of the killings and called his appointment "a hammer blow to every victim of collusion".

Despite her concerns Ms McDonald said that Sinn Fein will seek to work constructively with the new Commissioner.

"I think it is appropriate that Mr Harris makes a statement and addresses those real and deep seated concerns," the Dublin Central TD said.

“Mr Travers has spoken of RUC collusion and the old RUC culture of political policing and cover-up.

“He regards Mr Harris as part of that culture which has denied people the truth.

“Similar concerns have been voiced by the Relatives for Justice campaign group.

"They say that Mr Harris has 'at every opportunity' sought to thwart families in 'the search for truth and accountability' and that 'he has had a stranglehold on legacy and acted partially and with vested interests at times'."

The Sinn Fein President also drew attention to Mr Harris testimony before the Smithwick Tribunal.

The tribunal investigated events surrounding the killings of two RUC officers by the IRA in Co Armagh in March 1989, it was found that the Gardai had colluded with the IRA in the murders.

“The issue of his evidence at the Smithwick Tribunal being described as 'nonsense' by a former Garda Commissioner has arisen," Ms McDonald said.

“The question of what intelligence Mr Harris has had access to in terms of British state collusion in the Dublin & Monaghan Bombings has also arisen.

"Mr Harris must develop an ethos of transparency, best practice and accountability within An Garda Siochana."

Mrs McDonald said Mr Harris must distance himself from the past culture of the RUC.

"We need to get police reform right," she said.

"To do this he must earn the confidence and trust of the public, particularly in relation to his involvement with legacy cases.

"He must demonstrate that he in no way subscribes to the toxic, vindictive policing culture which necessitated the disbandment of the RUC.

“Taoiseach, what assurances will you give that the new Garda Commissioner will play the part demanded by that office in exposing collusion, uncovering the truth, and holding those responsible to account?"

Responding to her comments Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie defended the record of the RUC.

“The comments by Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald in the Dail today about the appointment of Drew Harris as head of the Garda should be noted by everyone who cares about the rule of law," he said.

“Drew Harris’s father was an RUC Superintendent murdered by the IRA in a car bomb in 1989. Like more than half the fatalities of the Troubles he lost his life due to the terrorism of the IRA. 

“Today Mary Lou McDonald said that Mr Harris must distance himself from the past culture of the RUC and asked the Taoiseach ‘what assurances will you give that the new Garda Commissioner will play the part demanded by that office in exposing collusion, uncovering the truth, and holding those responsible to account?’

“Republicans hate the RUC because the RUC stood up to them and never flinched in the face of a cowardly terrorist onslaught. Whilst republican terrorists skulked around in the shadows in masks, the RUC wore uniforms and did their duty. The RUC played a major role in defeating the IRA’s campaign of violence and Sinn Fein’s hatred of the force tells you all you need to know about how effective it was in that role.”

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