Drew Harris

Drew Harris

May 17 next will mark the 50th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bomb massacres. One of the key figures in the Dublin leg of that operation was Robin ‘The Jackal’ Jackson of the UVF. He collected three devices from James Mitchell’s farm at Glenanne, Co Armagh, and drove them in his poultry van to the Coachman’s Inn, in north Dublin, where they were distributed to his accomplices.

The massacres are being investigated as part of the UK’s Operation Denton. It is hoped this will clarify whether or not Jackson and any of his associates were MI5 or RUC special branch agents.
Campaigners on behalf of the victims of the Glenanne gang have been waiting decades for the truth. In 2010, then PSNI assistant chief constable Drew Harris wrote to them advising them that an investigation into the wider questions raised by the activities of the group was not going to take place.

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET), however, began to look at aspects of the gang’s activities. The team was operationally independent from the PSNI and had its own finances.

In 2010, however, Harris brought the HET under his control as head of the PSNI’s Crime Operations Branch and he removed investigative functions from HET officers. Henceforth, they could no longer arrest and question suspects. He also took control of its budget and closed down a unit that was cross-referencing disparate HET investigations for links, patterns and systems that might indicate UVF collusion with the NI state.

In 2014, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Policing found that the HET was lacking in independence when examining cases where the state was implicated.

The families took the PSNI to the High Court in Belfast. In 2017, Mr Justice Treacey criticised the PSNI for an “extreme” abuse of power, adding that “the state [was] not genuinely committed” to addressing the concerns of families of the Glenanne gang’s victims.

In November 2014, Harris (now deputy chief constable) found himself in the witness box at an inquest into the killing of six people by the RUC. Senior coroner John Lecky pointed out to Harris that the PSNI’s engagement in the disclosure process had lasted “longer than the second World War”.

The PSNI unit responsible for control of the files relating to collusion was the Legacy Support Unit (LSU). It was responsible for redacting sensitive information prior to its release to the victims’ families. Harris was in control of the LSU and all of the unit’s key staff were former RUC special branch officers.

In 2018, Harris became the Irish government’s choice for Garda Commissioner. The public was assured that there was no possibility of a conflict of interest in the appointment.

No one was ever convicted for the 1974 bombings during which 34 people died. An Garda Síochána maintains that the files on the massacres are still open. It is not known if Harris – introduced to the Smithwick Tribunal as the PSNI link man with MI5 – took the opportunity, while working for the RUC or the PSNI, to peep into their files to see if Jackson was a British agent.

Ozone 04-05-24

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