A relative of a victim of the McGurk’s Bar massacre has brought a High Court challenge aimed at blocking the appointment of a senior PSNI (formerly RUC) figure, Deputy Chief Drew Harris, as the next Garda police Commissioner in the 26 Counties.
It is understood the appointment will be formalised next month.
The action has been brought by researcher Ciaran MacAirt (pictured, right) whose grandmother Kathleen Irvine was one of 15 people killed when a loyalist bomb exploded at McGurk’s Bar in Belfast in December 1971. The attack was falsely blamed on the IRA by the RUC, and allegations of a cover-up have persisted.
In his action, Mr MacAirt says Mr Harris lacks the independence required to be Garda Commissioner due to this role in the RUC and PSNI. He argues Mr Harris could not direct or control any ongoing investigation into the murder of an Irish citizen, such as the Dublin Monaghan bombings, where there is credible evidence of collusion between the killers by the RUC or agencies of the British state.
He also states that due to his senior role with the PSNI, Mr Harris has possession of information directly relevant to Garda investigations into the murder of Irish citizens during the conflict.
Mr Harris is understood to have signed and likely considers himself bound by Britain’s Official Secrets Act, making it impossible to fully discharge his duties in a 26 County role. This is incompatible with the duties of Section 5 of the Garda Siochana Act, in particular to Irish state security.
Mr MacAirt, who says he was shocked by the decision to appoint Mr Harris, has been trying to establish the truth behind the bombing. The RUC initially blamed it on an IRA bomb being accidentally detonated when in fact the bomb was deliberately planted in the bar by the UVF. There was never a proper investigation into the bombing, and it is widely believed there was an RUC cover-up in regard to the true events.
Mr MacAirt says his efforts to find the truth have been frustrated by the PSNI and have been consistently obstructed by Deputy Chief Constable Harris.
As part of his role with the PSNI Mr Harris had responsibility the PSNI’s Historical Enquiries Team, which investigated the bombing. It produced four reports into the bombings which Harris had the final say over. The four reports were all rejected by the victims of the bombing as allegations of collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the RUC were not addressed.
Mr Harris’s role in that investigation alone makes it impossible for him to hold the position of Garda Commissioner, Mr MacAirt argues. In his action, he is seeking various orders including one quashing the decision to appoint Mr Harris as Garda Commissioner, and an order blocking Harris from having any involvement in Garda investigations into collusion by the British Crown Forces.
The matter will return before the High Court on Tuesday.
Stephen Travers a survivor of the Miami Showband massacre, said that appointing Nelson as Garda Commissioner was “putting the fox in charge of the hen house”.
Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, he said that Harris had “blocked, delayed and frustrated our every effort to access the files on those who murdered our three lads [band members] and who shot me.
“And just last week they gave us notice that they’re seeking a Public Interest Immunity certificate to block us from getting their files on the notorious RUC Special Branch agent and mass murderer, Robin Jackson, often referred to as ‘The Jackal’.
“Now can you imagine our new Garda Commissioner being questioned in relation to the Miami Showband Massacre and its cover-up? This new appointment is a hammer-blow to every victim of collusion between British security forces and the loyalist terrorists.”
Speaking on the same broadcast, Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O Laoghaire said his party was not seeking to block Nelson’s appointment and that it would “work constructively” with the new Commissioner.
He said the appointment should have been delayed until after the 26 County Commission on the Future of Policing has reported, but said that “a new Garda Commissioner is in place”.
“We have worked with him in the PSNI. We will hold him to account as we have previous [Garda] commissioners and previous senior officers of the PSNI.”
He said legacy mechanisms previously agreed in Stormont talks were “critical” and should be delivered. “We will continue to pursue the PSNI through every avenue possible to ensure that they cease blocking information being given to legacy inquests,” he added.