The news that Drew Harris, the Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), has been selected as the new Commissioner of An Garda Síochána has generated considerable comment as well as some controversy. A peace-brokered replacement for the infamous Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the United Kingdom’s former paramilitary force in the Six Counties, the PSNI continues to have a mixed record in the area of cross-community law enforcement, and is still disproportionately representative of the pro-union population in the disputed region. Though, admittedly, its composition and reputation is a vast improvement on that of its disbanded predecessor, with the RUC’s dual reputation of being “97% Protestant, 100% Unionist” or “policemen by day, gunmen by night”.
Several figures have leapt to Harris’ defence in the face of this criticism, notably Andrew McQuillan, the retired Assistant Chief Constable of the PSNI, who made this claim to The Irish Times:
Reacting to concerns at evidence given at the Smithwick Tribunal by new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about alleged infiltration by the IRA in the Garda station in Dundalk, Mr McQuillan said he could understand the Garda’s hurt.
“The PSNI at one stage had found agents of the IRA in its staff, the government in Northern Ireland was riddled with them, he said.
“To say that the garda was immune from it is fundamentally wrong.”
McQuillan’s admission stands in stark contrast with statements made by the British authorities throughout the thirty year conflict or so-called Troubles in the UK legacy colony in the north-east of the island. During that era, and for some time thereafter, London insisted that the Irish Republican Army had failed to penetrate its regional administration in the contested territory (despite the guerrilla organisation busting open Britain’s intelligence operations in mainland Europe during the same period). However, we now have a senior ex-officer with both the PSNI and the RUC – and the notorious anti-insurgent Special Branch, no less – admitting that the British government machine was “riddled” with IRA agents.
Interesting to say the least.