Thursday 13 December 2018

Government gets the right man to run the Garda

Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Cartoonist: Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Coming out of Fields in Skibbereen, whistling the Mountains of Mourne, I got a convent school puck that hurt.

A robust Skibbereen woman regarded me roguishly: "You're not Michael Harding, are you?"

Before I could nod agreement, she cried, "Ah you're only codding me", and gave me a parting puck for trying to seduce her under false pretences.

Happily, I will be meeting Michael at the Percy French Festival which runs from July 11-13 at Castlecoote House, Co Roscommon - hence the tune I was whistling.

John Waters, who got me the gig, is giving the keynote talk, so we will hear nothing predictable or politically correct.

But my cheerful whistling was also prompted by the appointment as Garda Commissioner of Drew Harris, my first cousin.

I jest about the first cousin - just testing the pacemakers on the Boys of the Old Brigade.

But I did suggest Harris was the best man for the job in my column of September 24, 2017, and this is causing paranoia among Sinn Fein trolls on Twitter.

Sinn Fein's anger about the Harris appointment arises from his arrest of Gerry Adams for questioning about the murder of Jean McConville.

Adams is also angry about Harris handing the Smithwick Tribunal a note with the name of the senior IRA/Sinn Fein figure who Harris believes ordered the murder of Tom Oliver.

Harris's actions don't bother normal people who want to see Tom Oliver's murderers brought to book.

So do I, but that was not why I backed Harris for the job. Based on my contacts with RC officers in the PSNI, I believe he's the best man to get the run-down Garda back on the right track.

Tommie Gorman's pitch-perfect profile of Drew Harris last Tuesday night showed why the appointment was inspirational, imaginative, and a positive move in the peace process.

Tommie reminded us how highly the late Fr Denis Faul thought of Harris's father, Alwyn, murdered by the IRA.

Faul noted his pursuit of complaints by a Catholic mother about harassment which led to six Royal Marines being removed from duty in Kilkeel.

Like father, like son was Tommie's hopeful message. As the only journalist with fingers firmly on the pulse of both body politics, he correctly anticipated the positive reaction next day.

From the SDLP in Northern Ireland to Garda representative bodies, the press and the main political parties in the Republic, the mood music was mellow - with the striking exception of Sinn Fein.

But three minor sour dissenting notes were also sounded next day.

The first flat note came from Audrey Carville on Morning Ireland whose hostile opening question to Peter Sheridan, former assistant chief constable for the PSNI, set the pattern for all that followed.

"There is some surprise and some concern that a senior British police officer with strong links to the British security services has been appointed to this most senior role in Irish policing. Were you surprised?"

Let me ask Carville, who, apart from Sinn Fein, has "some concern" about Harris's links with the British security service?

We've had such links since World War II. We need them for tasks ranging from keeping the royal family safe during State visits to tracking Islamist terrorists.

Carville seemed taken aback when Donnchadh O Laoghaire, Sinn Fein TD for Cork South Central, refused to rise to her flies about Harris's role in the arrest of Gerry Adams.

Correctly reading the public mood, O Laoghaire prudently said, "Sinn Fein would work constructively with the new Garda Commissioner".

Pity Mary Lou McDonald did not follow O Laoghaire's laid-back line a few hours later at Leaders' Questions when she undid all her unctuous stroking of the past few months by attempting to smear Harris.

Leo Varadkar rightly took her to task. She looked rattled - and she had good reason to be rattled.

She was on shaky ground because of the sudden gulf between Donnchadh O Laoghaire's constructive line a few hours before and her negative Dail stance which was now backfiring badly.

Why had she taken such a sudden hard line? Had she got a call from Belfast?

That very morning in the Belfast News Letter she had strongly denied the IRA Army Council were "pulling my strings".

But she also said Slab Murphy was a "decent" man, and that she believed Gerry Adams was never in the Provisional IRA.

Since nobody believes two of these three statements why should we believe the third one?

The final sour note last Wednesday was a dirge of negativity from retired Chief Superintendent John O'Brien in a car-crash outing on lunchtime radio.

Clearly, O'Brien had not read the Irish Examiner editorial before telling us that among certain senior gardai the Harris appointment had caused "shockwaves, disappointment and, in some cases, downright hurt". If he did read it, he didn't agree with it.

The editorial warned about the danger of Harris being "confounded by the insular, accountability-defying obstructionism that has almost come to define the force".

To deal with this, Harris "must be supported robustly by the Government and especially the Department of Justice - even if that means ending some officers' careers prematurely".

O'Brien went on to raise alleged security problems.

Referring to Harris having information on the Stakeknife and Tom Oliver cases, he rhetorically asked: "How is he going to use that information in the context of his leadership of the Garda?"

To catch the murderers of Tom Oliver - and what's your problem with that? Justin McCarthy should have sharply replied.

O'Brien summed up as follows: "I am particularly concerned about the legacy and the state security issues and those questions need to be asked and answered."

No wonder he was later quoted approvingly by Sinn Fein's Padraig Mac Lochlainn on RTE radio's Late Debate.

Luckily for RTE, Sean O'Rourke's interview with Micheal Martin earlier in the day had restored some broadcasting balance.

Martin saw Harris's covert work as a plus. "As a former Minister for Foreign Affairs, I'm aware of the extraordinary work done by the PSNI and the Garda Siochana together in thwarting some horrific potential bombs from the Real IRA and other organisations who were set on destroying the peace process."

Martin was followed by John Jacob of the AGSI who gave a warm welcome in the same spirit shown earlier by the rank and file GRA.

Drew Harris starts work with the good wishes of most people in the Republic and with the solid support of Charlie Flanagan, who had the final say on whether or not he got the job.

Sunday Independent