Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Harris could be just what Garda needs

Editor's Viewpoint

The appointment of Drew Harris as the new Garda Commissioner is one that would have been unthinkable not so many years ago when the police services on both sides of the border viewed each other with some suspicion.

But the atmosphere has changed immeasurably in recent years and Mr Harris came out on top in an international selection process, which is a great tribute to his standing in policing circles and his expertise across a range of roles.

While he is an expert in covert intelligence - and has worked closely with MI5 while in the PSNI - he also has strong management credentials, and those will be sorely tested in the months and years ahead as the Irish police force undergoes major reform.

He comes to the job after the last two commissioners left under pressure with no notice, and one of his immediate tasks will be to restore the reputation of the force. It has suffered a series of blows in recent times including claims of running a smear campaign against a whistleblowing officer and faking almost one million drink-driving tests.

As deputy head of the PSNI, Mr Harris will know many of the senior officers in the Garda and that will help ease him into the job. But his leadership will be closely scrutinised and one of the most interesting reactions will be from Sinn Fein.

The party was critical of him - albeit not by name - when Gerry Adams was arrested in relation to the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville and there were dark mutterings about an embittered rump of the old RUC.

While there has never been a Garda Commissioner from outside the Republic - indeed there has been very limited take-up of an exchange scheme between the forces - Mr Harris's appointment makes sense.

His internationally recognised credentials and covert intelligence background will assist in the fight against the drug gangs which have been involved in multiple murders in recent years. There is also the ongoing dissident republican threat which has a cross-border element, and the outworkings of Brexit may create new challenges for both police forces. Already the PSNI has suspended the closure of three border stations in anticipation of a new hard border between the jurisdictions.

Mr Harris, whose father Superintendent Alwyn Harris was murdered by the IRA in 1989, could turn out to be an inspired appointment for a force engaged in a big recruitment drive and reform.

Belfast Telegraph

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