An extraordinary incident involving Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has forced the Dublin government to confirm that heavily armed members of the British Crown Forces are routinely making incursions into all areas of the 26 Counties without any checks or controls.
It has emerged that there was a security scare at Garda HQ in the Phoenix Park in Dublin late last month involving Harris and several armed PSNI moving in unmarked PSNI jeep. The ‘bomb-proof’ jeep was badly damaged when it was struck and flipped upwards by a security barrier raised as it attempted to enter the base without warning.
The Garda Press Office has been engaged in a damage limitation exercise since news of the incident emerged last weekend, almost two weeks after the incident on March 25th.
Insider accounts said the jeep was ‘flung up into the air’ when a garda at the gate of Garda HQ, responding to the threat of an unknown northern-registered vehicle entering at speed, activated an emergency security barrier which ‘rammed’ the bottom of the jeep, which was ‘flung up into the air’.
Panicked gardai rushed out of Phoenix Park thinking there was a bomb on board. “Gardaí thought there was a bomb scare because the barrier is only used when there’s a security threat,” the Daily Mirror reported.
The jeep was said to have been written off as a result of the impact.
The Garda Press Office later blamed a faulty bollard for the impact, which it said occurred when the armoured PSNI vehicle was moving “at walking pace”.
In almost identical statements, both the Gardaí and the PSNI described the incident as “normal procedure”. But their attempts to minimise the incident only added urgency o the questions.
Chief among these is the revelation that members of the PSNI, including those with a past involvement in collusion, have been allowed to carry loaded weapons throughout the 26 Counties since 2013, despite the illegality of doing so.
Harris was controversially appointed by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan in September last year. He previously served as the head of PSNI/RUC Special Branch where his actions served to cover up that force’s collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.
It also emerged that Harris prefers to use a PSNI unit rather than Gardaí as personal security, dispensing with his own Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU) vehicle which normally is assigned for his protection.
Dermot Ahern, who was minister for justice from 2009 to 2011, said he was never aware of the PSNI being permitted to carry firearms across Ireland during his time at the department.
He also said that every time he travelled to the North his Garda driver would be disarmed by PSNI before they crossed over the Border. After they crossed, the PSNI would insist “every time” that he transfer to their vehicle for the onward journey.
The PSNI’s expanding role in 26 County policing has angered rank-and-file members of the Garda who see it as a denigration of the function of the highly trained ERU which is responsible for the commissioner’s safety.
Harris has been accused of treating Garda HQ as a sub-office of PSNI HQ in east Belfast. He has also been accused of treating the post of Garda Commissioner as a stepping stone as he prepares to apply for the role of the next Chief Constable in the Six Counties.
Previously Harris generated controversy over his links to loyalists after he backed Garda protection for a masked loyalist gang who have been carrying out illegal evictions in the 26 Counties.
On Monday, John O’Brien, retired Garda chief superintendent and former national head of Interpol and Europol, said the latest incident raised serious questions about the judgment of the commissioner, who has suffered bereavement and trauma during the conflict.
“It is not standard operating procedure, the usual way that we do things, that an armed escort from the PSNI would travel to Garda headquarters to protect the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána,” he said.
“The officers concerned have no authority to carry firearms,” he said, and there would be “huge issues” if the PSNI opened fire.
Mr O’Brien raised the possibility the PSNI involved could have been targeted by an IRA unit on their return journey.
“If some incident goes down, what are the rules of engagement? The bottom line is that the Gardaí and the Defence Forces are the only service permitted to carry firearms in this jurisdiction,” he said.
“What happened with Drew Harris and his car calls his judgment into question very strongly unless there is a reasonable explanation for it.”