Paul Hosford: Helen McEntee’s future depends on the streets of Dublin remaining peaceful
The issue of policing in Dublin has been thrown into sharp focus following the horrific stabbing of three children at a school in the north inner city last week and the violence that followed.
While the aftermath of last Thursday is still being felt and two victims remain in hospital, focus has landed on two high-profile figures — Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, a TD for the area, said in the immediate aftermath of the incidents that she wanted to see Ms McEntee leave her post.
Ms McDonald said there had been “an unacceptable, unprecedented collapse in policing” and that a problem leading to Thursday’s riot had been “building for months”.
“I do not say the following lightly, but it must be said.
I have no confidence in how Dublin is being policed.
Ms McDonald’s sentiment was echoed by another local TD Neasa Hourigan — who is no long subject to the Green Party whip — who told Claire Byrne that she could not support Ms McEntee if a vote was to arise.
But with the Dáil order of business having already been largely set, a motion of no confidence didn’t take place last Friday, meaning that the Justice Minister would avoid a vote on her future for this week, at least. Sinn Féin has said that it will assess its options this week, but the timing may have done Ms McEntee a favour as the most febrile reaction to the attack and riots may well have passed by the time Friday comes.
While there were reports on Friday that Fianna Fáil backbenchers were willing to vote against Ms McEntee should the issue come to the floor of the Dáil, one TD said that while there is “nobody exactly singing her praises”, TDs would likely “go in and press the button” in favour of the embattled Meath woman.
One TD said that there was a “bit of reality” needed around the internal discussions on the prospect of a no-confidence motion. One Fianna Fáil TD said:
The reality is that if we vote against Helen McEntee, we likely cause an unnecessary election in the first two weeks of January.
That timing — with Christmas looming — means that nobody wants to be talking about an election, not that a vote of no confidence would automatically trigger one, although in practical terms it is likely.
But, while she will avoid a confidence motion, the Justice Minister will not escape the week without scrutiny.
She will take part in a three and a half hour session of Dáil statements on last week’s violence on Tuesday, before filling in for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday.
Even then, Sinn Féin has the option to play the card of no confidence if it so wishes, though Ms McDonald said on Monday that the minister should resign or be sacked. Ms McDonald said:
If she’s not minded to do that, the Taoiseach as the head of Government needs to bring accountability to the situation.
“But of course, we will reserve all options up to and including a confidence motion, but we shouldn’t have to do that.”
While the Government likely has the numbers to repel a motion and the timing is helpful, any further incidents in the capital would change the dynamic again.
It is one thing for control of the capital to be lost once. It is another for it to become a feature of the landscape.
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