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Some gardaí misused their power to pursue sexual relationships, says Garda Commissioner

GARDA COMMISSIONER DREW Harris has said an appeals board did not uphold his recommendations to dismiss gardai who he claimed had misused their power to coercively pursue sexual relationships.

He said there are a number of people who have been returned to service that he has concern about remaining as members of An Garda Síochána.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with the Policing Authority, he said: “These matters are around gross misconduct and they relate to the misuse of their position primarily, therefore, to pursue sexual relationships which I would have viewed as coercive but did not cross the criminal threshold.”

templemore-tipperary-ireland-13th-january-2023-garda-commissioner-drew-harris-speaks-with-media-before-the-passing-out-ceremony-for-24-gardai-who-were-attested-as-sworn-members-of-an-garda-siochan Alamy Stock Photo File image of Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Alamy Stock Photo

Harris raised concern about the matter by mentioning “terrible situations” that arose in the London Metropolitan Police.

The Met has faced a series of harrowing scandals, including serving armed officer Wayne Couzens, who raped and murdered Sarah Everard, and David Carrick, who was unmasked as a serial rapist.

Speaking during the Policing Authority meeting, Harris said: “Terrible incidents up to and including murder have occurred, almost in plain sight.

“We never want to be in a position where we have individuals that we have real concerns about and they are in plain sight and nothing has been done about it.

“One has to recognise that members of any police service, members of An Garda Síochána, we do hold extraordinary powers. We do have extraordinary access to people who are vulnerable in society.

“And it is easy then for those with really malicious and criminal intent to exploit that position.”

He said that over recent years, none of his recommendations for dismissal have been upheld at the appeals process.

In particular, he raised concern about individuals who he had “lost trust in” their ability to deal with vulnerable victims.

He said: “That then becomes a problem in terms of the individual continuing to serve. And in effect then, we have to make sure that they’re in a position where they have the minimum in terms of freedom of discretion of movement themselves whilst on duty, and also then subjected them to pretty stringent supervision.

“But in effect, the appeal panel has dealt with them – its often by fine – and then these individuals returned to duty.”

He later added: “Their past behaviour has been entirely reprehensible.”

He told reporters he was speaking about “three or four” individuals.

He said they are being kept away from victims “as far as possible”.

The commissioner said patterns of behaviour in other jurisdictions show there was a potential danger about members subjected to corruption investigations “preying on the vulnerable”.

Asked how he felt about seeing the imposing of fines on these members rather than their dismissal, Harris said: “It’s a risk to the public in the first place. Less important, there’s a reputational risk to us going forward as well.”

Acknowledging the right for process and the right to defend one’s self, he said considerations around public confidence and public safety should be remedied in new conduct regulations.

The commissioner said the organisation is in a better place following the creation of an anti-corruption unit.

He added: “We’ve made it very clear what the organisational expectation is on the standards that we expect of members of An Garda Síochána.

“That hasn’t been popular in every quarter, but so be it, there is a standard to be set.

“It’s very clear what the public expects of us and that’s the barometer by which this should be judged because there is peril if we don’t follow through.”

Policing Authority chair Bob Collins said the issue was a “source of very deep concern”.

He added: “One of the concerns that we expressed at the meeting is that members of the public unknowingly would find themselves engaging with somebody in this category.”

He said it was also concerning that it has “taken a long time” for revised conduct regulations to be drafted.