Justice Minister

Helen McEntee begins maternity leave with Heather Humphreys taking over justice brief

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys will take over the justice brief until 17 December.

JUSTICE MINISTER HELEN McEntee is to begin her maternity leave this evening, with Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys taking over the justice brief until 17 December.

McEntee told reporters today she would finishing up this evening, with one of her last engagements officially opening Walter Scott House, a development that when fully occupied and operational, will hold up to 900 garda personnel, many of whom have been relocated from Harcourt Square.

McEntee took six months paid maternity leave last year and gave birth to a boy in April, becoming the first woman to have a baby while serving in Cabinet.

Humphreys took over the role as Minister for Justice – in addition to her own portfolio – while McEntee was away.

She will do so again until the Cabinet reshuffle which will take place when the role of the Taoiseach rotates. 

Due to ministers and TDs not being entitled to maternity leave, previous politicians who have become mothers have claimed sick leave when they take time off to have and look after their newborn baby.

Last year, the Government said it would legislate to make the changes needed as regards maternity leave for those holding office, with the Taoiseach stating at the time that there is an absolute requirement for permanent reform to ensure full equality for all public representatives through the introduction of maternity and paternity leave for councillors, senators, TDs, and ministers. 

However, despite such promises, no legislative reform has taken place, with Government sources stating that a referendum on the matter is likely to be held on the issue next year. 

Legislation to allow local councillors take maternity leave was recently approved by Cabinet.  

Walter Scott House 016 McEntee speaking to reporters today.

Garda body-cams

Speaking to reporters today, McEntee said she would have liked to have brought forward legislation that will allow for body-worn cameras for gardaí before she went on maternity leave.

However, McEntee said the legislation is now expected to come before Cabinet in the next few weeks, adding that it will be within the parameters of the laws that protect privacy.

Concerns have been raised by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties over breach of privacy. It said the use of body-worn cameras by gardai cannot be justified.

There have been heightened calls for the introduction of legislation that will allow for body-worn cameras following a number of attacks on gardai.

Representatives for the Garda Representative Association said the legislation contained in the Recording Devices Bill should be speeded up.

Earlier this week, two gardai needed hospital treatment after they were attacked while attending an incident in Ballyfermot.

McEntee said her department has worked with various different groups and organisations to ensure the legislation does not impede on anybody’s civil liberties.

“This is about fighting crime. It’s about protecting people. It’s about protecting members of An Garda Siochana. So anything that we do, we will make sure that we’re within the parameters of the laws we need to be,” McEntee added.

The minister said she was “absolutely appalled” by the footage of the attack, which was widely circulated online.

“In terms of body-worn cameras, this is a priority for me. We have the Recording Devices Bill, which I had hoped to have at Cabinet by now, but as always is the case with legislation there have been some delays,” McEntee added.

“That legislation will be brought to Cabinet in the coming weeks. The funding will be there to make sure that the body worn cameras can be rolled out and this is really about keeping people safe.

“It’s about assisting the gardai and their work as well. So while it will help keep gardai safe in making sure that there’s very clear footage of what happens when there was an incident, but also, turning to domestic violence, it’s often the first few seconds on the scene that can be most important in gathering evidence or information.

“To have that type of equipment is really, really important. It’s still a priority. There’s no issue.”

Walter Scott House 018 Garda Commissioner Drew Harris speaking to media at the official opening of Walter Scott House in Dublin today. Sasko Lazarov Sasko Lazarov

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said any issues around civil liberties have been addressed by other European countries.

“Body-worn cameras are a proven technology in policing and do reduce the severity of attacks on police, and also they do provide very strong evidence of incidents that gardai will be dealing with,” Harris said.

“They make it easier for complaints to be resolved, either proven or disproven. It is a significant addition to the equipment that we’d want to have,” he said. 

Ballyfermot attack

Harris said he has spoken to both garda members who were attacked who he said are in “good spirits” and are making a recovery.

“Both of them required hospital treatment and are now resting. They are looking forward to getting back to work despite the incident that happened,” he added.

“Like many of our members who face these types of attacks, they get a lot of support from their colleagues and from staff associations. We are very much concerned for their wellbeing that they make a speedy return to work.”

With reporting by Press Association

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