Drew Harris was uncharacteristically shaken when he arrived to address garda superintendents at their annual conference in Kildare last Wednesday.

The country's most senior police officer has been through a lot in over four decades of service with the PSNI and An Garda Síochána, including the murder of his father Alwyn, a superintendent who was killed in Northern Ireland in an IRA car bomb in 1989.

The experience, Mr Harris says, gave him a lot of empathy with victims of serious crime and while he carries the memory of that atrocity with him and thinks about his father every day, he has, he says, worked hard to avoid becoming bitter.

But he described last Wednesday's vote by 10,800 Garda Representative Association members as "a bitter blow."

He was, he said, in a quietly understated fashion, "very disappointed" but it was clear that he had been hurt.

Over 9,000 rank-and-file gardaí voted no confidence in Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner, 98.7% of the members of the Garda Representative Association who were balloted, almost two thirds (64.7%) of the entire 13,900 workforce of sworn gardaí.

The turnout of almost 85% was the highest ever for a GRA vote. The result was overwhelmingly negative for the commissioner.

The affirmations of confidence from his senior leadership team of executive directors, deputy and assistant commissioners, the Policing Authority, the Government and the minister for justice proved cold comfort.

Even the main opposition party Sinn Féin has declared its support for the former PSNI deputy chief constable.

But only 116 gardaí said they had confidence in Drew Harris. In times of crisis families also suffer and the commissioner’s family were along with him upset by the result.

He views the GRA’s ballot as a personal attack on him and has taken it personally, describing it as "a kick in the teeth." He says the way the motion was framed shows it was clearly directed at him.

Gardaí were asked if they had confidence in the Garda Commissioner, not if they had confidence in the office or if they had confidence in Mr Harris’ policing or policies.

The GRA has rejected the charge of a personal vendetta declaring it "a very sad day for policing," without mentioning the policeman at the centre of it.

The association insists the vote was about the problems in policing and that the result is a vindication of what has become a controversial act.

Those problems include retention, recruitment, discipline, and suspension.

The commissioner insists that the issues of discipline and suspension have been raised with him in correspondence and while cases have been reviewed, the actions taken have been found to be valid.

The GRA say the commissioner is not too concerned about the welfare of its members but garda superintendents strongly disagree.

They say Drew Harris is very attuned to garda welfare and has set up wellness programmes and wellness days.

In the president’s speech at the Association of Garda Superintendents conference - that was highly critical of Government - the commissioner was singled out for praise for these initiatives.

Mr Harris has also, in times of crisis, personally contacted and visited individual sworn garda members of all ranks and civilian staff, to offer sympathy and support.

The reality is that the root cause of the current difficulties between the lowest rank and the garda’s most senior officer is the so called "Westmanstown Roster".

The proposed return to this prepandemic roster requires gardaí to work six days in a row instead of the current four days and that is something they do not want to do.

They say they would lose money, have a worse work-life balance and want to remain on the current temporary Covid-19 roster.

The GRA described the commissioner’s decision to reintroduce this roster, following years of failed negotiations with the association, as "the last straw".

But even though the vote which emanated from that decision has caused him so much pain, Drew Harris says he’s not for turning. The so called "Westmanstown Roster" will be reintroduced on 6 November.

Both sides are therefore on a collision course and the ball is now back in the GRA’s court.

It wants the Government or Minister for Justice to intervene, but they have refused, and have rallied to support the commissioner they appointed in 2018.

Helen McEntee shares Mr Harris’ view that the vote of no confidence was personal and says she cannot intervene in operational issues such as the roster. Both sides, she says, must sit down and talk.

Helen McEntee says she cannot intervene in garda operational matters

The minister is due to meet the GRA at her offices next Wednesday. The commissioner has invited the four garda associations to meet him the following day.

The next major scheduled event in this increasingly fractured saga is the GRA’s Special Delegate Conference, due to take place in Kilkenny on 27 September. Its Central Executive Committee is meeting two days before.

The GRA will not say what options are open to it but will be guided by the delegates.

However, garda conferences have in the past been marked by militancy - the association once hired a private security firm for its annual conference.

Gardaí are not permitted to go on strike but they have in the past marched and protested on the streets.

They have also withdrawn their labour in a tactic known as "Blue Flu" where thousands of gardaí due on duty simultaneously called in sick.

GRA vote of no confidence 'a bitter blow', says Harris

Some think the vote of no confidence marks the end or at least the beginning of the end of Drew Harris’s garda career.

He has insisted he will not resign but some believe, without the support of the majority of serving gardaí, he’s finished.

"He has lost the dressing room," retired detective Alan Bailey said. "He can no longer run the team".

Mr Harris’s authority has been somewhat damaged by this vote.

He insists he won’t resign, unlike the chief constable of the PSNI who also suffered the indignity of a no- confidence vote by rank and file officers.

The commissioner says the circumstances between himself and Simon Byrne are totally different and insists he has "absolutely no interest" in applying for that job.

The first police officer to be appointed commissioner from outside the ranks of An Garda Síochána, Drew Harris has a contract until 2025.

He's determined to complete it. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to do so.