My focus is on keeping people of Ireland safe, says next Garda commissioner Drew Harris

The PSNI police chief appointed as the next Garda commissioner said his focus would be on protecting the vulnerable and keeping people “on the island of Ireland” safe.

In a landmark appointment, Drew Harris is the first police officer from outside the State to become the head of An Garda Síochána — which is both the national police force and the national security service.

Currently, as deputy chief constable, Mr Harris has overall responsibility for intelligence gathering and operations in the PSNI.

He joined the RUC, the predecessor of the PSNI, 34 years ago and his father, a senior RUC officer, was blown up by the IRA in 1989.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said full background checks and security clearance had been conducted and that the Government was “absolutely confident the commissioner will be loyal to the police and to the State”.

The Government later confirmed Mr Harris was a dual Irish-British citizen by virtue of being born in the North and that he had applied for an Irish passport.

Mr Varadkar said that under the current setup, security and intelligence remained with the gardaí and said that was “going to remain the case” unless the Policing Commission recommended otherwise.

The commission is due to make its report on the future of policing in September, the month Mr Harris is due to assume his new role. The commission is examining whether or not security and intelligence should be removed from the gardaí into a new agency.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Harris had a “wealth of experience in policing and security”, including in dealing with the dissident threat.

In a short statement to the media, in which he declined to answer questions, Mr Harris said he was “privileged” to be appointed.

He said he had worked with An Garda Síochána over many years and had a “very close working relationship” with it, including “very successful” operations.

“I know this is a time of change and transition,” he said, “but throughout my career, I have been concerned and driven by the needs to protect society, particularly the vulnerable and that will be my focus over the next five years as commissioner, keeping people on the island of Ireland safe and helping to secure the State.”

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan reiterated that Mr Harris would have the full functions of the commissioner “including safeguarding the security of the State”.

Josephine Feehily, chair of the Policing Authority, said they were “very satisfied” to nominate Mr Harris, after a Public Appointments Service competition, to the Government.

Mr Harris becomes the third commissioner in four years after the departures of Martin Callinan in March 2014, and Nóirín O’Sullivan in September 2017.

Mr Varadkar said the question as to whether Mr Harris would bring his own management team would be discussed between him and the Policing Authority and the Department of Justice.

The Garda Representative Association welcomed the appointment, describing Mr Harris as “a working police officer” and said the Government must provide him with the funding to implement the recommendations of successive reports.

Anne Connolly of the Northern Ireland Policing Board said Mr Harris “brings a breadth and depth of expertise to the job” and said his appointment “can only cement” the excellent working relationship between the PSNI and gardaí.

PSNI chief constable George Hamilton said the appointment “can only serve to build” on the close working relationship between the two police forces, including in “overcoming the many challenges we jointly face, including Brexit”.

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