Northern Ireland news

Drew Harris congratulated on Garda Commissioner appointment

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris is to be the new Garda Commissioner

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said the appointment of Drew Harris as the new Garda Commissioner allows the state to "take a new direction in Irish policing".

The PSNI deputy chief constable, who has become the first external candidate to the lead the force, said he was honoured to join at a time of change.

The 53-year-old, who was in charge of the PSNI's intelligence branch, was tipped as the preferred candidate, overcoming competition from Assistant Garda Commissioner Pat Leahy and current head of crime operations John O'Driscoll.

The commissioner role became vacant after Noírín O'Sullivan retired in September last year.

Mr Harris, who has 34 years' policing experience including in senior roles, was appointed to the rank of PSNI Assistant Chief Constable responsible for Crime Operations in 2006 and has served as Deputy Chief Constable since 2014.

He has managed serious crime investigations, was responsible for all intelligence gathering, operations and analytical support for the PSNI and worked closely with the gardaí.

The father-of-four in welcoming his appointment said he would focus on protecting the vulnerable.

"Throughout my career I have been concerned and driven by the need to protect society and in particular 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."

The post will command a salary of €250,000 a year which was increased from €180,000 in order to attract outside interest.

The new commissioner will be required to oversee sweeping changes to the beleaguered force with 16,000 members and an annual budget of €1.6 billion.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it had been a robust selection process and the government's priority was to get the best person "and it had".

Mr Harris's father Alwyn, an RUC officer, was killed in an IRA undercar bomb in 1989. His mother was also in the car at the time but survived the blast.

He has previously held a number of operational commands and spent a two-year secondment with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland.

He has a degree in politics and economics and a masters in criminology.

With previous responsibility for the Crime Operations Department, the former RUC officer has a history of working in covert intelligence and liaised with MI5 during operations into dissident republican activity.

Mr Harris leads the Garda at a time of major reform.

His predecessor stepped down amid an "unending cycle" of questions surrounding the force.

Noirin O'Sullivan said she had been trying to rectify the failures and mistakes of the past.

There were queries over how she dealt with officers inflating the number of breathalyser tests carried out and police whistleblowers.

More recently, concerns have emerged about police record-keeping.

PSNI chief inspector George Hamilton said he looked "forward to continuing a close working relationship" with his outgoing deputy who he described as "a man of unfathomable strength, humility and grace" who he was privileged to have served with.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley MP said: "This is a critically important post and I am delighted that An Garda Síochána will be able to draw on Drew's vast policing experience which is as broad as it is deep."

The chair of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland, Mark Lindsay, said Mr Harris is "an outstanding police officer".

"Brexit is already on the policing agenda in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the perspective he will bring to the dialogue will be invaluable".

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said he looked "forward to hearing from him how he intends to ensure that he and An Garda Síochána are fully accountable, and how it can be reoriented back towards policing with the community."

Former Alliance justice minister David Ford welcomed the appointment, saying it was "well-deserved recognition of his achievements".

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said it was a "remarkable personal achievement" for Mr Harris.

Ulster Unionist Alan Chambers also described Mr Harris's appointment as a "tremendous personal achievement" and wished him success.

However, Mark Thompson of victims' group Relatives for Justice criticised the appointment, saying he did not believe Mr Harris had "anything positive to contribute to normal policing in a normal society".

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