William Matchett: Killers of Paul Quinn and others will have cause to regret Drew Harris' appointment as Garda boss
The former PSNI Deputy Chief Constable will need all his wits about him when he takes over the scandal-hit force. But the perpetrators of some of Ireland's most notorious murders won't be sleeping too soundly either, writes William Matchett
In 1933, Edward 'Ned' Broy was made Garda Commissioner. The appointment caused enormous shock. The Free State was in danger of tearing itself apart as the losers in the Civil War were now top dogs.
Memories of the fratricide were fresh. One side, the anti-treaty forces under Eamon De Valera, had broken away from the flat earth thinking of Sinn Fein to form Fianna Fail. By 1933, De Valera's party was in power. Broy was their man.
The opposing side, Fine Gael, the treaty party of Michael Collins, grudgingly accepted the nomination. A fledgling state was finding its way.
Good people in opposite camps sat down together and worked out a peaceful transition of power.
Outside the Dail, Sinn Fein and the IRA still violently opposed the Free State. This was the crisis that Broy fixed.
'Broy's Harriers' - a band of ex-IRA men recruited into Garda Special Branch - would spearhead the offensive against the IRA men who did not accept the legitimacy of the Dublin government. No spin. No fuss. Broy just got on with it. Public confidence in the Garda soared.
What strikes me most with Dail Eireann making Drew Harris Garda Commissioner is the same political maturity at play. Stormont, take note. I work in the Republic of Ireland and have found a kinder ear here for a police officer's perspective of the Troubles than back home, or in London.
Recently released state papers show how Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald told Catholic bishops in the US: "It is wrong to equate security forces trying to maintain law and order with the violence of the bomb and bullet."
The Republic of Ireland is in another crisis. This time, it's not revolutionaries stuck in a time warp, but a police organisation scandalised by inquiries. That said, old Provos who have escaped justice should be worried.
Drew Harris defended democracy and the rule of law all his life. The enemies of democracy and the rule of law murdered his father, Alwyn. Drew's detractors should now come forward and assist the Garda in every way they can with the murders of Tom Oliver, Private Patrick Kelly, Garda Gary Sheehan, Brian Stack, Joseph Rafferty, Detective Gerry McCabe and Paul Quinn.
Developing An Garda Siochana is the priority. The fallout around the Disclosures Tribunal hearings, concerning the treatment of Sergeant Maurice McCabe, is a sample of some of the issues. As this happens, the Kinahan and Hutch gang feud, dissident republican terrorism, criticism of the Garda for real, or perceived, failings and so on will not stop. Controversy is constant. It is the nature of policing.
The good news is that Drew Harris is steeped in this stuff. He has extensive strategic experience of a police organisation in crisis.
When I retired from the PSNI in 2014, it was undergoing 'Patten lite'. The aim was to best manage the workload and increased bureaucracy with fewer resources. The reality was fewer officers and a reduced budget. Change in policing is a regular fixture. Getting the rank and file to buy into it is the difficulty.
Drew Harris is well-versed in what it takes to modernise a police organisation and the obstacles destined to get in the way.
As for the political bit, Northern Ireland's two sides used the police as a political football. It was a tough test he passed with some bruises. In a divided society, they play the person, not the ball.
When thinking of him and looking back at Irish history, Sean Lemass also comes to mind. Lemass lost his brother, Noel, in the Civil War, brutally executed by pro-treaty forces. Yet he never raised the issue. Drew's the same.
A senior officer who served under him told me: "When the name change from the RUC to PSNI got us down, we looked at him and thought, 'He's progressive. He's going forward'. Wow. If anyone deserves to moan, it was Drew. But he wasn't. He was getting on with things. And we thought, 'If he can get himself through it and he's leading us, so can we'."
In his time as Assistant Chief Constable in charge of crime operations, he was quizzed by Policing Board Sinn Fein members on the PSNI's compliance with human rights in intelligence-led operations.
Their knowledge of human rights was limited, to say the least. They had no interest in the State's obligations under human rights legislation to protect the identities of sources and police officers.
I studied human rights law at university and oversaw this area. The Office of Surveillance Commissioners - a senior judge - inspected us annually. Under Drew Harris, the PSNI set the gold standard in the UK.
Of Brexit, he has warned that a hard border would be a target for dissident republican terrorists and a retrograde step. When he was in charge of crime operations (which, by the way, is independent of MI5), cross-border security co-operation, police-to-police, increased.
And I am reliably informed that he was behind the PSNI participating in Gay Pride.
When he applied for the Deputy Chief Constable position, it was shortly after he authorised the arrest of Gerry Adams in relation to the IRA murder of Jean McConville in 1972.
Adams denied any wrongdoing and was released without charge. The late Martin McGuinness tried, unsuccessfully, to taint Drew. It's what Sinn Fein do. Mary Lou McDonald was at it again yesterday in the Dail.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar retorted that it was "almost in the space of trying to undermine the new Garda Commissioner" before he had started. It is the first time I have seen the new Sinn Fein president rattled.
Drew Harris also authorised the investigation of alleged wrongdoing by senior officers. The case fell through and the accused complained about him. The Police Ombudsman investigated this. He was cleared.
Unafraid to do the right thing, fair, a visionary and seasoned in the school of political hard knocks. A leader, not a manager. Big difference. He is a huge loss to the PSNI.
The type of people I have known and admired, who put on the green shirt at Lansdowne Road, are the type of people who appointed Drew Harris. They are real Irish republicans.
Commissioner Drew Harris is a game-changer, perhaps even more than Broy.
Dr William Matchett is the author of Secret Victory: The Intelligence War that Beat the IRA. He is Adjunct Fellow at the Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Prevention at Maynooth University