Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have this week called for the current Garda Commissioner, former RUC Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Drew Harris, to resign from his post over his past connection to collusion in the north of Ireland. Researcher and blogger Ciarán MacAirt recalls the legal effort to stop his appointment.
There has been renewed – or belated – interest in the appointment of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris following the RTÉ airing of Unquiet Graves.
Unquiet Graves tells the story of the Glenanne Gang and investigates the role of the British state and its Armed Forces in the killing of 120 Irish Catholic civilians during the conflict in Ireland – on both sides of the British border. Commissioner Drew Harris makes an appearance.
It is a devastatingly powerful piece of filmmaking by award-winning director, Seán Murray, featuring astounding efforts over the past few decades by the families, Pat Finucane Centre and Justice for the Forgotten.
Viewers noted that Commissioner Drew Harris was in the thick of it as his former employers, Royal Ulster Constabulary/Police Service Northern Ireland tried to thwart the families in their fight for truth and justice – even forcing the families through costly, time-wasting and damaging court cases.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was appointed to the role in 2018 but we considered that he was not independent – to put it mildly – and could not properly fulfil his duties under Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Irish Constitution, or Garda Síochána Act. We also considered it incompatible with his adherence to the British Official Secrets Act as he may have known information in legacy cases but could not/would not share those with Gardaí investigators.
At the same time, former Deputy Director of Irish Military Intelligence, Michael Murphy, raised serious concerns that Commissioner Harris was not properly vetted for potential links to British Military Intelligence/Intelligence Services/MI5 – vetting which also should have included people close to him.
The Irish High Court disagreed and the Irish Government swore in Commissioner Harris at the bewitching hour of midnight – either before we could lodge an emergency injunction first thing on Monday morning or his police car turned into a pumpkin.
We tried, we failed but our point was made.
During the High Court case, we were advised not to publicize it as we would have done in north of Ireland so we did not do much PR at the time. Indeed, we had to bite our tongues when a lot of misinformed opinion about the origins of the case was published/discussed in the Irish media.
So, in light of the renewed or belated interest in the appointment of Commissioner Drew Harris, here are just some the points we discussed with our lawyers and the courts – many of which are being discussed on social media today:
At the time of the Jean Smyth killing, the RUC were part of the British Army’s radio network and were well aware that British soldiers had mistakenly killed the deceased. The RUC however, in a repetition of the McGurks bombing, blamed the IRA for the killing and repeated this untruth at the inquest in November 1972. When the HET reviewed the killing in 2008, with ACC Harris as Officer in charge, they too blamed the IRA. So too did the PSNI refuse to deal with the case once the new evidence was found in 2014, which led to the court case. The case itself was prolonged for more than two years due to PSNI prevarication and delay, something for which they were, criticised for by the judiciary. Again, this happened while ACC Harris was in control of the HET.
I now wish to turn to the Barnard case (Glenanne set of cases) exhibited at CMA – 7, where the Court concluded at paragraph 209: “The unfairness here is extreme – where the Applicant had believed that the murder of his brother would finally be considered in context for the purposes of discovering if there was any evidence of collusion in the murder, that process is now completed and will not be taken up by any other body. The frustration of the HET commitment communicated by the ACC completely undermined the ‘… primary aim [of the HET] to address as far as possible, all the unresolved concerns that families have’. It has completely undermined the confidence of the families whose concerns are not only still unresolved but compounded by the effects of the decisions taken by the then Chief Constable. It is a matter of very grave concern that almost two decades after the McKerr series of judgments decisions were taken apparently by the Chief Constable to dismantle and abandon the principles adopted and put forward to the [Council of Ministers] to achieve art 2 compliance. There is a real risk that this will fuel in the minds of the families the fear that the State has resiled from its public commitments because it is not genuinely committed to addressing the unresolved concerns that the families have of State involvement. ”
The Assistant Chief Constable referred to above is DCC Harris.
I say and believe that the decision to appoint Deputy Chief Constable Harris of the PSNI to the position of Commissioner of An Garda Síochána is in flagrant breach of section 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act, 2003.
There are clear findings in the cases already referred to in Re Bernard and McQuillan that the investigations published by first the RUC and then the PSNI do not comply with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. A key person in all of these flawed reports from the PSNI, in particular in 2006 and 2007 DCC Harris, who at the time held the role of Assistant Chief Constable.
I say that the decision to appoint him as Commissioner of An Garda Síochána is appointing him to a position where by having control and direction of An Garda Síochána he has control and responsibility for the direction of the investigation of crimes and the vindication of human rights.
He has failed to do so to date and it violates my right as a citizen to vindicate the right to life of my deceased relatives. And I fear it will result in a failure to discharge the ongoing duty of An Garda Síochána pursuant to paragraph 7 of the Act to investigate crime, particularly crime against Irish citizens where there is credible evidence of British State collusion
I further say and believe and am so advised that by virtue of his previous service and his involvement with British State security agencies and his oaths under the Official Secrets Act that he has an ongoing duty to Britain under that Act. I say and believe that in order for Deputy Chief Constable Harris to have discharged and to continue to discharge his ongoing duty loyally and faithfully to Britain, a duty which persists even after he is out of office, that he is precluded from being appointed to the position of Commissioner of An Garda Siochana under the Garda Siochana Act 2005.
I say and believe that he could not possibly fulfil his obligations to Ireland were he to be appointed as Commissioner of An Garda Síochána because he would be legally thwarted and curtailed in so doing due to his ongoing legally binding commitments and duties of loyalty to another State. I say that under Article 5 of the Constitution of Ireland, Ireland is an independent, sovereign, democratic State. Yet it is proposed now to have Deputy Chief Constable Harris who has sworn an oath of allegiance to another State, namely Britain, discharging this role. I do not believe that it can be discharged due to the glaring conflict of duties, loyalties and interests; and I further believe he is precluded by his loyal and faithful service to Britain from discharging that role in controlling and directing the Gardaí. As the most senior Counter Terrorist and Intelligence Officer in the North these oaths are binding, even after he leaves the appointment. This makes it impossible that he could fully discharge his duties in respect of national security in Ireland as he will still be bound by the UK Official Secrets Act which is incompatible with the duties under the Garda Síochána in areas of the security of the State.
I say that this same conflict of allegiance arises in respect of the McGurk’s Bar bombing in which my relations were killed and injured. Deputy Chief Constable Harris by virtue of sworn undertakings will be bound not to disclose his knowledge of matters pertaining to the investigation by virtue of his prior service. For clarity, the UK Official Secrets Act and the 1989 Act in particular is a comprehensive document that specifies that includes security intelligence which includes the work of or in support of the security and intelligence services or any part of them.
I say and believe and am so advised that what constitutes prohibited disclosure is any information which he would have come in to by virtue of his position as a member of the security and intelligence services.
I further say that these bombings took place prior to the amendment of the Constitution of Ireland and the territory of the Six Counties was disputed territory between two sovereign States, Britain and Ireland, while Deputy Assistant Chief Constable Harris was a member of the RUC. Ireland and Britain are two sovereign States. To have a sworn allegiance to one, I respectfully submit, means that he cannot fulfil the requirements incumbent in swearing allegiance to the other, in the context of occupying the highest-ranking policing role in that State. That is particularly true in light of the legal context in hand. Most certainly, he cannot discharge duties under the Official Secrets Acts of both countries.
While this may not be a problem in terms of ordinary crime, I say that where there is credible evidence of State collusion by the British Security Services, and their agents, of involvement in the murder of Citizens of Ireland then there is a clear conflict as he is already bound by his oaths and duties to Britain.
I say that the State has a duty to vindicate the rights of all its citizens as set out in Article 40.3.2 of the Constitution and under the Garda Síochána Act.
This duty is ongoing and continuing and there is a clear conflict in respect of this role being discharged under the direction and control of Deputy Chief Constable Harris.