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Speech by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. – Confidence Motion in the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD

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Ceann Comhairle,

I move that this House has confidence in Minister Helen McEntee.

We will debate a lot of things over the next two hours, but I want to reiterate that our thoughts are first and foremost with the schoolchildren and their carer who were so brutally and senselessly attacked last Thursday week.

Two remain in hospital this evening and we hope they make a recovery.

I also want to restate my gratitude to those who risked their lives to save other lives – and to thank the Gardaí, front-line workers, council workers, transport and retail workers – of all nationalities – for their response to the riots that ensued.

Their response demonstrates the power of people working together. And I believe they, and the public at large, want us in this House to work together to make our capital’s streets safer. The issue of confidence is a distraction from that important work.

 

Minister Helen McEntee

I’ve known Minister Helen McEntee for nearly 20 years. I worked on her by-election campaign after the sad death of her father Shane and I had the privilege of appointing her as Minister for European Affairs in 2017 when I first became Taoiseach to work alongside Minister Coveney and me on the important issue of Brexit.

Helen is trustworthy, sincere, intelligent and loyal. She is someone I turn to in difficult times and is never afraid to show her mettle when challenged as she has in the past week or two.

I am thankful for her work as Minister for Justice, carrying on my party’s tradition of law and order, alongside a wide agenda of reform. Cracking down on crime, helping victims and improving access to justice.

 

Minister McEntee’s record in the Department of Justice

I believe her record speaks for itself.

Recruitment to An Garda Síochána is recovering post-pandemic, with up to 800 new recruits entering Templemore this year alone.

She has negotiated the highest Budget for the Gardaí ever – over 20% higher than when she started in office in 2020.

We now have the largest fleet of vehicles in the organisation’s history, with around 100 extra Garda cars and vans due by the end of this year.

Gardai will soon have body worn cameras for the first time, with the first phase due to start in Dublin early next year. This will improve their safety as well as evidence gathering.

Minister McEntee is introducing facial recognition technology to enable retrospective viewing of CCTV footage, freeing up thousands of hours of Garda time.

Minister McEntee has already:

  • Doubled the maximum sentence for assault causing harm
  • Increased the sentence for conspiracy to murder from 10 years to life
  • Increased the sentence for assaulting a Garda or emergency worker from 7 years to 12

She is also working to:

  1. Crack down on the proceeds of organised crime. The number of gang-related murders has fallen significantly on her watch.
  2. She’s working on the overhaul of the archaic licensing and night-time entertainment laws
  3. Reforming our Defamation laws
  4. Modernising our outdated incitement to hatred and hate crime laws
  5. Creating a new dedicated Family Court
  6. And I believe no Minister has done more to combat violence against women than she has
  7. She has also appointed more judges and has a plan to expand prison capacity

 

Government-wide response

I know we need to ensure that people are safe and feel safe in Dublin City Centre.

I’ve committed, as Taoiseach, that the full resources of the State will be available to the Minister and the Garda Commissioner, and I will make sure that there is leadership and coordination from my office in that regard.

We need a tough response to the riots. That is clear. But we also need to understand why some people reacted in the way they did and to what extent the riots were orchestrated by subversive elements.

These riots do not reflect the wishes of the vast majority of people living in Dublin’s North Inner City. I know that. Of the 48 arrests, only 4 were resident in Dublin 1.

 

Opposition

In politics we will always have disagreements, but I think there also needs to be a sense of proportion and balance and unity in times of real crisis.

The Sinn Fein motion of no confidence was a political stunt. Unnecessary and counterproductive.

People want us to work together to improve law and order, not just in Dublin but across the whole country. Removing the Justice Minister and the Garda Commissioner which is Sinn Fein policy would be a victory for those who engaged in violence and incited violence on our streets. It would embolden them to strike again. And that alone should be sufficient reason to vote with the Government here tonight.

Ceann Comhairle, I would not have confidence in a Sinn Fein Member becoming Minister for Justice. I would not have confidence in a Sinn Fein Member, as Minister for Justice, proposing the appointment of the next Garda Commissioner.

Sinn Féin has talked a lot about the horrific events unfolding in the Middle East and rightly so. But they will not acknowledge war crimes that may have happened in this country. Crimes committed in our name by terrorists the Irish people always rejected. Crimes like the Enniskillen and Warrington bombings in which children were killed. Their justification is reminiscent. It wasn’t deliberate. They weren’t being targeted. They were just collateral damage.

Crimes like the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe, Patrick Kelly, and Austin Stack.

And of course, Sinn Fein politicians when asked – and they’re not asked often – will use every word imaginable to avoid admitting that these things were crimes and that the perpetrators criminals who should be dishonoured and brought to justice and punished.

That’s why we cannot have a Sinn Fein Taoiseach, why we cannot have a Sinn Fein Justice Minister and why we cannot have a Sinn Fein Defence Minister in the next government or any government.

 

Conclusion

A Cheann Comhairle, the events of 23 November were a real shock and not something we are used to in Ireland thankfully. We need to make sure these were exceptional events and I vow that we will. For those of you listening at home, I encourage you to come into Dublin City over the coming festive period to support our businesses and show solidarity with city centre communities.

There is an increased Garda presence and it’s highly visible and we will be doing everything we can to make sure that you are safe and feel safe at all times and that you get home safely too.

Mar a dúirt mé an tseachtain seo caite, mar Rialtas, beimid gan staonadh ó thaobh ár saoránaigh agus ár ndaoine a chosaint.

Beidh na Gardaí ar na sráideanna agus déanfaidh siad aon rud atá ag teastáil ionas go mothóidh daoine sábháilte.

As I said last week, as a Government we will be relentless in protecting our citizens and defending our people and their property.

The Gardaí will be on the streets, and will be visible, and will do whatever it takes to make sure people are safe and feel safe.

A Cheann Comhairle, it is an honour to express my full confidence in my friend and colleague, Deputy Helen McEntee.

I commend this motion to the House.

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