A Cheann Comhairle

I would like to begin by acknowledging the broad welcome that the appointment of Mr. Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner has received.  As the House will be aware, this is the first occasion on which the independent Policing Authority has recommended a candidate to Government, following a rigorous selection process conducted by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) on its behalf A great deal of work went into ensuring that the widest possible field of qualified candidates put themselves forward and I welcome the successful conclusion following with the recent decision by Government to appoint Mr. Drew Harris as the next Garda Commissioner. 

As the well-respected Belfast-based Irish News newspaper stated during the week, Drew Harris is not an “outsider”, he is a Policeman, he is an Ulsterman and he is an Irishman. Drew Harris has defended the institutions of democracy and rule of law all his life. His father was murdered by terrorists with a political agenda in breach of democracy and rule of law. As Commissioner, Mr Harris will have the full functions of that role including safeguarding the security of the State. On taking up office in September he will, like all entrants to An Garda Síochána, make a solemn declaration under section 16 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State. The incoming Commissioner is a person of huge ability and the highest integrity and I know he has enormous respect for and knowledge of An Garda Síochána, having worked with members of the organisation as close colleagues over the course of his career.  

As I’ve said, this is the first occasion that the independent Policing Authority has exercised its function in relation to the filling of this important position. I thank the Authority and the Public Appointments Service for their intensive work over the past ten months on this process. The selection process was an open, international one, designed with the objective of attracting the widest possible pool of candidates from diverse backgrounds to ensure that the successful candidate would be tested against international standards in police leadership. I understand it worked well in attracting a strong field of high calibre candidates. All those who put themselves forward were subject to robust scrutiny by an independent expert interview board which determined Mr Harris to be the best person for the office at this timeIt is only right and fair to give Mr Harris the opportunity to be judged based on his performance in his new role, one he will take up at a time of major reform and investment which will redefine An Garda Síochána as an organisation. In addition, the start of his tenure will coincide with the publication of the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland which will chart a new course for policing in the decades ahead. I am confident that Mr Harris has the necessary ability and vital policing, security and change management experience required to lead An Garda Síochána at this critical juncture. He will bring his talents to the challenge of transforming An Garda Síochána so that it becomes a model of policing excellence, equipped to deal with the huge range of challenges facing police services worldwide.  He can be assured of my support and that of the Government in his endeavours.

I am sure that the Deputy will agree that dealing with the legacy of the troubles on this island is a complex and sensitive task, and one to which there are no easy solutions.  In my previous role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I spent a great deal of time working with main parties in Northern Ireland and the British Government to identify ways to address the legacy issues that continue to hold back politics in the North. In 2014, we collectively agreed a framework of measures in the  Stormont House Agreement to seek to address these very difficult legacy issues and we are fully committed to seeing those measures put in place and working in the interests of victims and their families. Regrettably, the political impasse at the Northern Ireland Executive has delayed the roll out of these measures and the Government will continue to work hard to seek the re-establishment of the Executive for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.

The Garda Authorities will continue to co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in respect of all relevant criminal investigations, whether contemporary or historical, in accordance with the arrangements in place.  There is also ongoing co-operation with Coroner’s inquests in Northern Ireland and the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland in respect of historical investigations.

With regard to unresolved, troubles-related criminal investigations in this jurisdiction, the Garda Authorities will fully pursue any new evidence or information that comes to light with a view to bringing the perpetrators of crimes to justice.  There are also regular reviews of cases where it is considered that there may be grounds to advance those investigations.

Let me conclude by saying that I and my Government colleagues look forward to working with Mr Harris as he takes up this exciting, not to say challenging role.  We wish him every success.