Northern Ireland news

McGurk's Bar campaigner challenges Drew Harris Garda appointment in Dublin court

Ciaran MacAirt has brought the court challenge
Aodhan O Faolain

A relative of a woman killed in one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles has brought a court challenge in Dublin aimed at preventing the appointment of PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris as the next Garda Commissioner.

Ciaran MacAirt's grandmother Kathleen Irvine was one of 15 people killed when a loyalist bomb exploded at McGurk's Bar in Belfast in December 1971.

In the High Court action, the researcher claims that Mr Harris lacks the independence required to be Garda Commissioner due to his role in the PSNI and its predecessor the RUC.

He claims the senior officer could not direct or control any ongoing investigation into the murder of an Irish citizen where there is credible evidence of collusion involving the RUC or agencies of the British state, including in the Dublin/Monaghan bombings in 1974.

Counsel Gerard Humphreys said it is believed the appointment will take place next month - the first time the top post has been given to an external candidate.

He claims that due to his senior role with the PSNI, Mr Harris has possession of information directly relevant to Garda investigations into the murder of Irish citizens during the Troubles.

He also claims he has signed and is bound by the UK's Official Secrets Act, making it impossible to fully discharge his duties as the next Garda Commissioner.

It is argued this is incompatible with the duties of Section 5 of the Garda Siochana Act, in particular to state security and the investigation of crime.

In his action against the Minister for Justice and the Attorney General in the Republic, Mr MacAirt seeks various orders including one quashing the decision to appoint Mr Harris as commissioner.

In the alternative, he seeks an order preventing him having any role in the direction and control of the Garda investigation into the murder of Irish citizens where there is credible evidence of collusion.

He also seeks declarations that the Irish state is obliged to conduct independent investigations into the murders of its citizens where there is evidence of collusion.

He further seeks a declaration that due to his obligations under the Official Secrets Act and his role in the protection of the PSNI, the RUC and other agencies of the UK, Mr Harris would be incapable of controlling an independent investigation into the murder of those Irish citizens where collusion was alleged.

Mr McAirt is represented in the north by Belfast-based firm Kinnear and Co who say the matter will be heard again next Tuesday.

Legal representative Niall Ó Murchú said it will be argued that the appointment represents a breach of Irish national security.

A spokesman for the Commissioner of Garda Siochana said it was not appropriate to comment on matters before the court.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has previously defended the appointment of Mr Harris, saying he is someone "who can bring about better policing in Ireland, policing our communities better, and greater accountability on behalf of the gardaí".

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