Widespread shock at the appointment of a sinister RUC figure as 26 County Garda police commissioner has been followed by a row after Sinn Fein vowed to “hold him to account”.
While victims of RUC (now PSNI) collusion in the North described the appointment of Drew Harris as “catastrophic”, new Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party would work “constructively” with the new Garda Commissioner.
The head of Relatives for Justice, which campaigns on behalf og victims of collusion, said that even the Dublin government’s own Smithwick Tribunal had condemned evidence presented by Harris as being “nonsense on stilts”.
Mark Thompson said that Harris “has at every opportunity sought to thwart families search for truth and accountability when the state has killed people”.
This held true whether at legacy inquests, civil proceedings or with the North’s Police Ombudsman, he said, pointing out that Harris was taken to court in order to obtain documents necessary for the Ombudsman’s office to conduct legacy investigations.
“Overall Drew Harris has had a stranglehold on legacy and has acted partially and with vested interest at all times, not least concerning incidents of shoot to kill and collusion carried out by the state during the conflict and in particular the role of RUC special branch.”
He said it was “a bad day” for the Gardai and the people in the 26 counties.
“I personally don’t believe he has anything positive to contribute to normal policing in a normal society.
“He is largely viewed as a policing dinosaur and often referred to as the leader of a cabal of former RUC officers within the PSNI who are the political policemen and who wield huge power and influence with MI5 also based here.”
He also warned starkly about the dangers of “intelligence sharing” between the two jurisdictions, questioning the ultimate loyalty of Harris, who works closely with British military intelligence.
“He’ll no doubt exploit that opportunity in the overall interests of the British intelligence agencies and their role south of the border during the conflict, mirroring what he did north of the border.”
Mr Thomson’s comments come as a survivor of the Miami Showband massacre described the appointment as a “massive step backwards”. Stephen Travers said it was a “hammer blow” to every victim of collusion between British Crown forces and loyalist paramilitaries, and described it as “putting the fox in charge of the hen house”.
He accused Mr Harris of being party to a conspiracy which “blocked, delayed and frustrated” every effort to access the files on those responsible for the atrocity.
Being a victim, he added, does not qualify Mr Harris to take over the garda role. The newly appointed commissioner’s father, Alwyn Harris, a senior RUC member was killed in an IRA car bomb in 1989.
Mr Travers said that Mr Harris can swear allegiance to uphold the Irish Constitution as many times as he likes, but he would prefer if he just held up his hand and said he would no longer block the files on the Miami Showband massacre and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
ARRESTED GERRY ADAMS
Before being appointed deputy chief constable of the PSNI in October 2014, Drew Harris led Special Branch/C3 and liaised regularly with MI5. At that time, he ran the operation which resulted in the arrest and detention of Gerry Adams, before his release without charge four days later.
The arrest prompted the Deputy First Minister at the time, Martin McGuinness, to depict Harris as part of a “dark side” that conspired with British and unionist enemies of the peace process.
New Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald called on Harris to make a statement to address the various concerns.
“He must earn the confidence and trust of the public, particularly in relation to his involvement with legacy cases,” she said.
“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?”
The President of Republican Sinn Fein Des Dalton said the appointment of Harris illustrated the “neo-colonial nature” of the 26-County State.
“What other self-respecting state would appoint, as head of its police and intelligence services, a senior member of the police and intelligence services of another state?
“This appointment is further evidence of the entrenchment of British rule and partition in Ireland. Twenty years after the Stormont Agreement, an agreement sold to nationalist Ireland as ‘a stepping-stone to a United Ireland’, it is obvious that far from weakening the grip of the British State, that grip is steadily being tightened.”