Campaign grows to block Harris appointment

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Donegal County Council has passed a motion calling on the Minister for Justice to cancel the appointment of a new head of the 26 County police because of his previous links to British intelligence agencies and his role in shutting down an investigation into state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

Notorious senior RUC/PSNI figure Drew Harris (pictured, left) was named as the new Garda Commissioner by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan earlier this month.

His appointment came despite a Belfast High Court judgment which found that his decision to shut down an investigation into the activities of the Glenanne gang, the North’s largest loyalist paramilitary death squad, was inconsistent with basic human rights obligations.

The gang, which operated mostly in Armagh and Tyrone, has been blamed for more than 100 killings during the 1970s and 1980s. Drew Harris was in charge of legacy investigations in the PSNI when the probe by the force’s Historical Enquiries Team was halted without explanation.

Last year’s High Court judgment prompted the victims’ support groups to call for Harris to resign from his then role as Deputy Chief of the PSNI. Incredibly, he is now set to officially take up his new role as Garda Commissioner in early September.

Victims of the conflict have accused Harris of being part of an organisation that refused to release files that show collusion with state assassins -- including notorious serial killer ‘The Jackal’.

Harris was also the PSNI chief in charge of the investigation that saw Gerry Adams infamously arrested and interrogated in 2014, before being released after four days.

Stephen Travers, whose three fellow band members were killed by the Glenanne gang in 1975, said: “There is something seriously wrong with this appointment. It has done terrible damage to the confidence of Nationalists and Unionists who are looking for truth.

“They didn’t get it in the North and the very person who was part of an organisation that didn’t give it to them is coming down south.”

Mr Travers said after years of delay in accessing police files, a ‘Public Interest Immunity Certificate’ was being used to hide information on Jackson -- “perhaps the greatest mass murderer in our history”.

Loughinisland massacre survivor Colm Smyth added: “We have all suffered the same inability to get information -- at every step of the process.

“Drew Harris is part of the top brass that took steps to make sure we don’t get access.

“And the longer that they keep the files hidden, eventually we all die off and there’s no one left to fight the fight.”

People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said that for the families of victims, “the appointment of Drew Harris is like sticking a knife in their backs”.

She called for the Minister and Mr Harris to attend a commemoration this week to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Miami Showband massacre and to meet the families.

She said there could be a court case arising from the failure to hand over documents and a possibility that Mr Harris “may be arrested and brought before the courts in the North to give evidence there in a court case”.

It is understood the matter was discussed during a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovrnmental Confereice in London this week.

But Minister Flanagan responded: “I’m not going to comment on any court decision in Northern Ireland any more than I would comment on any court decision here”.

He added: “I won’t be delaying the appointment of Mr Drew Harris nor indeed will the Government”.

However, a motion calling for Harris’s appointment to be cancelled was passed at a meeting of Donegal County Council on Monday, and it could mark the start of a campaign across the island. It was brought forward by Independent councillor Micheal Choilm Mac Giolla Easbuig (pictured, right) and seconded by Councillor Frank McBrearty Jnr.

“I didn’t expect it to pass. That to me clearly states that there’s huge concerns in relation to this appointment,” Councillor Mac Giolla Easbuig said.

The motion will now be circulated to all councils in the 26 counties and they will have to vote on it.

Mac Giolla Easbuig said he plans to hold public meetings to speak against the appointment in Dublin, Monaghan and Donegal.

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