Wednesday 21 August 2019

Paul Williams: 'Harris knows security is paramount but he has to explain bollard blunder'


Garda Commissioner Drew Harris Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Paul Williams

Paul Williams

The incident in which a bomb-proof PSNI vehicle carrying the Garda Commissioner was skewered by a security bollard at Garda HQ raises some embarrassing questions for the country's top policeman.

They are questions he really needs to clarify before this becomes a much bigger issue.

What we know so far is that the specially adapted Range Rover, belonging to the PSNI's close protection team, was delivering Drew Harris to the Phoenix Park following a visit to the North on Monday 25 March.

The Northern vehicle was driving in convoy behind an ERU vehicle that met the escort at the Border.

After the ERU vehicle drove in, the quick-thinking garda on sentinel duty was alarmed.

After all, she had spotted an unknown Northern-registered car driving towards the gates and immediately moved to activate the security bollard which is designed to prevent a suspect vehicle entering the complex.

It is understood the specially adapted Rover, which costs around £200,000 (€230,000), was badly damaged when the bollard speared its engine, rendering it immobile - and in need of very costly repairs if it's not written off.

Unlike any other Garda Commissioner in the history of the State, Mr Harris, a former member of the RUC and the PSNI and the first outsider to lead the force, receives the highest level of personal security available in the State because he is classified as a major target for dissident Republican gangs.

That means that wherever he goes on the island, either North or south, he is under constant armed guard by elite officers on both sides of the Border.

In the Republic, the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) provides round-the-clock armed protection for their boss and normally, after paying visits to his Northern home, they collect Mr Harris from his PSNI minders at the Border and then proceed to Garda HQ.

The most obvious question that requires answering is why was Mr Harris, as the Commissioner of police in the Republic of Ireland, being escorted to his HQ by police officers from a different jurisdiction who are not authorised to carry firearms here?

And then there is the issue of why security at the gates of the Phoenix Park had apparently not been informed in advance that their commissioner was arriving in a PSNI vehicle?

The optics surrounding this incident are bad to say the least. It is something of a PR disaster: the circumstances of what happened will give Harris's critics a unique opportunity to point out that by allowing his former colleagues to drive him back to his new home suggests he may still think he is in the PSNI.

In particular he has given his most ardent detractors in Sinn Féin a whip to beat him with as they have already begun demanding that he clarifies the facts around what happened.

Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD said the Garda Commissioner needs to clarify the circumstances surrounding the incident.

"My understanding is that, contrary to standard procedure, Commissioner Harris did not change between PSNI and Garda vehicles at the Border and continued to Dublin from the North in the PSNI vehicle.

"I would call on him to immediately make a statement and clarify this matter," Mr Ó Laoghaire said.

Of course, Sinn Féin loathe and fear Harris in equal amounts because of his past policing experience which involved him investigating many Republican terrorist crimes - and generally knowing them better than many of his southern predecessors.

Drew Harris is still very much settling into his role as commissioner and his relationship with many of his top management staff is described as purely professional.

But despite any initial embarrassment about the actual incident, Mr Harris should in fact be congratulating the garda on the gate for her quick, clear-headed reaction to an alarming situation.

Irish Independent

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