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AS IT HAPPENED

As It Happened: Justice Minister Helen McEntee survives confidence motion after heated debate

The Journal’s live blog will bring you the latest developments from Leinster House throughout the day and livestream the debate.

LAST UPDATE | 5 Dec 2023

TDS HAVE VOTED in confidence of Justice Minister Helen McEntee following a motion of no confidence tabled by Sinn Féin following the riot in Dublin on 23 November. 

The Dáil has spent the last few hours debating on the motion of no confidence in Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

We’ll keep you up to date with the latest evening.

Watch a live feed of the Dáil below.

The Journal / YouTube

Reporting by Hayley Halpin (now) and Jane Matthews (earlier). 

Good afternoon.

Jane Matthews here reporting from Leinster House where Leaders’ Questions is just about to get underway at 2pm. 

Questions today will come from Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, the Regional Group and the Rural Independent Group.

Stay tuned for the latest as it happens.

Before Leaders’ Questions gets underway, earlier today TDs from the Labour Party and People Before Profit spoke to reporters outside Leinster House.

Both parties said they will be supporting the motion of no confidence in Minister Helen McEntee. 

But Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said his party was not looking forward to the debate. 

He said while Labour has no confidence in the government’s handling of justice issues, he thinks this afternoon’s debate will see the worst of both Sinn Féin and Fine Gael.

“Some of the rhetoric from Fine Gael over the last week has been pretty disturbing.

“Phraseology such as ‘scumbags’ does not belong in Leinster House.

“Saying on the floor of the Seanad that individuals need ‘a good honest beating’ is not the type of language that’s going to get us anywhere and certainly producing photographs of vulnerable people sitting on the steps of our capital city is not the type of game playing that we think is going to bring this conversation forward,” the Dublin Bay North TD said.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald kicks of Leaders’ Questions with a focus on banning rent increases. 

Referring to the latest report from the Residential Tenancies Board she tells the Taoiseach “runaway rents have become normal under your government”. 

“Is it any wonder homeownership has collapsed under your government for a generation,” McDonald says.

She tells the Taoiseach that renters need meaningful action now and says without a ban on rent increases the situation for them will get worse. 

Tonight, Sinn Féin will bring a motion to the Dáil which calls on the government to ban rent increases for three years and put a full month’s rent back in renters profits. 

McDonald asks if the government will “fianlly” take these actions. 

In response, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says the rent tax credit is already in place, as are rent pressure zones. 

He says the problem the government has with imposing a three year ban on rent increases is that it would have a negative impact on rental supply. 

He says he has “some good news” for McDonald – housing supply is on the rise. 

He adds “Sinn Féin is not a party of homeownership”.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns now raising the situation in Gaza. 

She asks “how much slaughter and indiscriminate destruction can Western leaders stomach?”

Cairns points out that 15,000 people, including 6,000 children have now been killed in Gaza.

She says the deaths in Gaza are unprecedented in its scale and brutality. 

She asks “what will it take for the international community to act?” and says it is long past times for sanctionst to be imposed on Israel. 

Asks will the Taoiseach be recommending sanctions on Israel at the next EU Council meeting. 

In response, the Taoiseach says he shares her sentiments on what is continuing to unfold in Gaza. 

He says: “our position is very clear that there should be a new ceasefire.”

The Taoiseach adds that it should be observed by all sides, not just by Israel, but also by Hamas.

On sanctions, he says they are only effective when imposed on a unilateral basis. 

Cairns asks if the Taoiseach will push for unilateral sanctions at an EU level next Thursday at the EU Council meeting. 

She says she understands the Taoiseach’s position and “agrees with it”. 

The Taoiseach says he takes exception to the idea that there is something the Irish government isn’t doing that would stop the killing in Gaza. 

He points to the humanitarian aid supplied by Ireland to Gaza. 

Independent TD Micheal Lowry up next. 

He is raising the pressure local radio stations find themselves under. 

He tells the Taoiseach that a lack of funding leaves the door open for misinformation ahead of the local and European elections next year. 

He says it is vital that future funding be allocated in an equitable and fair manner. 

“Taoiseach the tock is ticking for local radio, and government would do well to tune into their problems,” he says. 

In response, the Taoiseach says he agrees that local radio is vital in countering misinformation spread online. 

The Taoiseach points to schemes being developed by the Department of Media to support local radio. 

He says subject to state aid approval, two new schemes will be in place next year, hopefully before the elections. 

This includes the local democracy fund and courts reporting fund.

Lowry thanks him for his reply and says this funding will help local radio secure its future. 

He says it will provide relief from the financial burden that they currently endure. 

Up now, Danny Healy-Rae raising nitrates derogation. 

Says the change means that 40,000 cows will need to be slaughtered this year. 

Tells the Taoiseach that if farmers reduce production it doesn’t follow that consumers will reduce their consumption. 

He says the government doesn’t mind if this comes from “Brazil, Argentina or New Zealand”.

Asks if the government is aware of what is happening elsewhere in the world when it comes to climate change. 

In response, the Taoiseach says the nitrates directive is about climate change and water quality and says it is in all of our interest to have “pristine and clean rivers”.

The Taoiseach adds that his biggest concern is the possibility that Ireland will lose the derogation altogether in 2025. Says it is just Ireland and Denmark that continue to have this derogation. 

“The worst thing we can do now for farmers is tell them that this problem is going to go away, because it is not,” he says. 

The way we keep our derogation now is by improving water quality and by government and farmers working together, the Taoiseach says. 

Healy Rae says he “doubts it very much” that the cattle are responsible for the water quality issues. 

Says farmers are being “villanised”. 

“Because Eamon Ryan flies out to COP, he would want to get a bottle of cop on,” Healy Rae says. 

“You’re on a roll,” Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl interjects.

Varadkar says Ireland needs to maintain its reputation of having sustainable agriculture. 

“It is in everyone’s interest we get this right,” he says. 

He adds that he doesn’t like anyone being demonised when it comes to this debate and says it shouldn’t include “slagging off” of Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan. 

That lively exchange brought Leaders’ Questions to a close.

The Dáil now moves to orders of business.

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin and Labour leader Ivana Bacik have both just raised the issues reported on in the RTÉ Investigates programme last night relating to abuse of Ireland’s planning system. 

“It showed two individuals involved in what can only be described as an appalling breach of that system and may well be subject to future criminal proceedings,” Ó Broin said. 

He said space needs to be made at an appropriate time to discuss the matter and for the government to outline its response to ensure it doesn’t continue to happen.

On the RTÉ Investigates programme last night, the Taoiseach says: 

“let me be very clear, people seeking money to withdraw planning and planning objections is not acceptable at all.” 

He says it is “probably the case” that this is “already illegal”. 

The Dáil is to begin its debate on the motion of no confidence in Minister for Justice Helen McEntee at 3.50pm. 

The vote will take place later this afternoon. 

Here’s a quick round-up of what you need to know ahead of the debate and vote. 

Sinn Féin has tabled a vote of no confidence in McEntee in the wake of the night of rioting in Dublin, with the opposition party claiming that she failed to ensure public safety in the capital.

Speaking to reporters at Leinster House on Friday, party leader Mary Lou McDonald said:

“It’s clear that the riots, this violence, this public disorder could have been foreseen, should have been foreseen, could have been prevented or contained through earlier action on the day had there been any leadership from the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice.”

As expected, Sinn Féin’s motion is set to be countered by a motion of confidence tabled by the Government. 

Our Political Correspondent Christina Finn reported earlier today that the Government believes it will comfortably win today’s no confidence vote in McEntee, with a number of Independent TDs set to throw their support behind the Justice Minister.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin predicted the minister will receive “strong” support and backing from several independent TDs.

“Motions of confidence have become mechanisms that are used with increasing regularity by opposition, particular by Sinn Féin,” he said.

“So, I think, you know, there will be strong Government support and clearly a number of independents have indicated their support as well. So, I expect the motion of confidence in Helen McEntee to be passed tomorrow.” 

Sinn Féin’s motion is set to be supported by some parties such as the Social Democrats, while some Independents have also said they cannot vote confidence in the minister. 

Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae told RTÉ’s Saturday with Colm Ó Mongáin programme that while he does not approve of the motion being put down in the Dáil this week, as there is much work to get on with, he will not be voting confidence in McEntee.

He said he didn’t expect any of the Rural Independent TDs to vote confidence in the minister.

However, despite the minister’s detractors, a number of other Independent TDs are expected to give their support to the government numbers, including the likes of Michael Lowry, Denis Naughten, Sean Canney, Peter Fitzpatrick and Noel Grealish. 

Government sources are confident that it will win comfortably today, stating that they have the numbers ensure McEntee is safe.

Pairing arrangements

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan, who is without the Government whip, said she would not vote confidence in McEntee. However, it is understood she has offered a pairing arrangement to the Government and would not vote no confidence. 

Political Correspondent Christina Finn reported earlier that a pairing arrangement is generally used when a TD has taken a leave of absence and is therefore not present to vote. They can enter an informal pairing arrangement with a TD from an opposing party TD, who agrees not to vote and so balances out their absence.

Initially, it had been expected that Environment Minister Eamon Ryan would have fly home to Dublin in the middle of the COP28 conference in Dubai to boost the Government’s numbers for a confidence motion. 

The minister was then to return back on the next flight to resume the conference. 

However, Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore has agreed to pair with Ryan, something which is not generally the norm for confidence motions. 

Social media platform X, formerly Twitter, has responded to claims made by justice minister Helen McEntee that the platform did not engage with gardaí when asked to take down posts around the Dublin riot.

The company says that remarks made by Helen McEntee in the Dáil last week are “inaccurate” and that it has “proactively taken action on more than 1,230 pieces of content under our rules relating to the riots”. 

 Speaking in the Dáil last week McEntee said a female garda detective had contacted social media companies to remove “vile” posts on their platforms and that all of them but X had engaged.

“[The female garda detective] was actively engaged with TikTok, actively engaged with Meta – so Instagram and Facebook – was actively engaged with Twitter, or X.

“She said very clearly that social media companies – in particular TikTok and Meta – they were responding, they were engaging with gardaí and they were taking down these vile posts as they came up.

“X were not, they didn’t engage. They did not fulfill their own community standards,” the minister said.

Commenting on the matter in the Dáil today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Minister McEntee has sought a meeting with X off the back of her meeting with the gardaí. 

He said he hopes that X will accept the meeting. 

“I will say this to anyone. Most of us are active on social media. Every major platform out there has community standards, and I think we all know which platforms are good at implementing and respecting their own community standards, and which ones are not. I’ll let people draw their own conclusions in that regard,” the Taoiseach said.

The Dáil is to begin its debate on the motion of no confidence in Minister for Justice Helen McEntee shortly. 

The debate has begun, with the Taoiseach addressing the Dáil.

Varadkar tells the Dáil he has known McEntee for nearly 20 years. 

“Helen is trustworthy, trustworthy, sincere, intelligent, loyal. She’s someone I turned to in difficult times and is never afraid to show her merit when challenged as she has in the past week or two,” the Taoiseach says. 

“I’m thankful for her work as Minister for Justice carrying on my party’s tradition of law and order alongside a wide agenda reform, cracking down on crime victims and improving access to justice. I believe her record speaks for itself,” he says. 

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The Taoiseach tells the Dáil that the Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in McEntee is a “political stunt” and is “counterproductive”. 

He says removing the Justice Minister or the Garda Commissioner “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 above should be sufficient to vote with the Government here,” he says. 

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Tánaiste Micheál Martin is now addressing the Dáil. 

He says there is “not even the faintest hint of sincerity in the attacks which Sinn Féin has launched” on McEntee “in the past two weeks”. 

He adds: “The truth is that we can all see through the opportunism and cynicism at the heart of this debate.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin says that “the language about take back our country and patriots defend our society and other such far right language only needs to find a small audience for it to cause very serious damage”.

“We have to have the laws and the enforcement necessary to act,” Martin says. 

“And just as importantly, we have to speak out against those who seek to promote and then exploit division.”

Minister for Culture Catherine Martin is now speaking. 

“I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today in support of the motion of confidence in the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee,” she says. 

“Now is not the time to be playing petty party politics. It is not the time to stoke division or seek political instability, and it is certainly not the time to be looking for headlines and heads,” Martin says.

“Now is the time for unity of purpose across all parties. It is a time for us to work together in this chamber to support all efforts to protect the key pillars of our democracy. That is exactly what this government and Minister McEntee are doing.”

Martin says McEntee has “enacted and is enacting significant reforms” to supporty gardaí, to protect citizens and to “make our country a safer place for all”. 

“Minister McEntee has been a proactive Minister for Justice, driving the modernisation of our laws to counteract hate crime and hate speech.”

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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald is up now.

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She is speaking about the stabbing outside Gaelscoil Choláiste Mhuire last month and the riots that followed in Dublin city centre. 

“It’s clear that this riot was compounded by the fact that there was not enough gardaí on hand to support their colleagues,” McDonald says. 

She said she has “full confidence” in gardaí, but says she has “zero confidence” in the Justice Minister. 

“Those who vote confidence in the minister tonight are endorsing grave failure.”

Varadkar intervenes, saying McDonald has “misled the Dáil”, adding the Government contacted the school within 24 hours of the events. 

McDonald had said that “it took nearly two weeks for government to reach out to the school community”.

“Let me be clear, the only person responsible for that stabbing nightmare is the perpetrator. Those responsible for the riot, where the rioters,” McDonald says.

She asys it is “the responsibility of the Minister for Justice to ensure that our streets are safe”.

“Even in these darkest of times I believe we can turn the tide back in favor of community. With the right policies and determination from Government, confidence in public safety can be restored and strengthened,” McDonald says. 

She adds: “You say that we are politicizing this issue. So let me say it clearly, there is nothing more political than keeping people safe.” 

McDonald says McEntee’s position is “untenable” and “she must go”. 

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Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly is speaking now. 

“However, there is no denying that parts of the city centre have become dangerous, derelict and rundown in recent years,” she tells the Dáil. 

“This didn’t happen by accident. This is a whole of government failure, but it has become encapsulated by the continuous failure on the part of the Minister for Justice, she adds. 

Addressing McEntee, she adds: “I have no faith that things will get better with you or your Government.” 

Finishing her speech, O’Reilly says: “We have no confidence in this Minister.” 

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Labour’s Aodhán Ó Riordáin is addressing the Dáil now. 

“Minister, you have had your successes and we have worked with you to achieve them. And your failures are not yours alone. They must be shared across Government and the government needs to take responsibility for them,” Ó Riordáin says.

“We have no confidence in your Government’s management of justice issues in our country,” Ó Riordán tells the Dáil. 

“The people of Ireland deserve so much better.” 

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Minister Paschal Donohoe is up now. 

He’s addressing Sinn Féin and criticising Mary Lou McDonald’s speech. 

He says McDonald’s claim that it was two weeks before the school was contacted by the Government following the stabbing incident is “wrong”. 

Donohoe adds: “There is nobody I would far rather have representing this state as Minister for Justice than Helen McEntee.” 

“We know we have more work to do. We know we have more that needs to be done. But exactly at the moment when our country needed unity, Sinn Féin offered division.”

He says we have a “minister here who understands what needs to be done”, adding that “because of that, she has my support and that of the Government”. 

Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton said as part of her brief in the Department of Health she meets with people dealing with addiciton.

She said Sinn Féin on the other hand used a picture of a vulnerable man for “a cheap publicity stunt”.

“The mask of Sinn Féin has slipped,” she said. 

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Sinn Féin’s Mark Ward is up now. 

“The level of destruction and lawlessness” that happened during the Dublin riots was “unacceptable” and “inexcusable”, Ward says. 

He says “this does not happen in isolation”. 

“You have allowed things to escalate.”

Sinn Féin TD Sorca Clarke says “we need new leadership” and “we need a better vision”. 

“We need a Minister for Justice who will actually step up and ensure that the necessary resources are put in place to guarantee public safety for all,” Clarke says. 

Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy tells the Dáil 

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“Minister, if you don’t prevent crime from happening, then you spend the time investigating and prosecuting them. This has to be a watershed moment,” she says. 

Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats is up now. 

He says ”confidence in any form derives from a sense of feeling secure”.

“This is about state neglect of a community. And if you walk through the community that I grew up in, the north inner city, you could not help feel that neglect. It reverberates off the walls,” Gannon says. 

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Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman is addressing the Dáil now, noting McEntee’s work on domestic violence issues. 

He says McEntee is “providing leadership in tackling violence against women, a topic that was left unaddressed by successive governments for too long”. 

He says the Justice Minister has his full confidence. 

Minister Jack Chambers also tells the Dáil that he has full confidence in McEntee. 

He says he has “absolutely zero confidence in Sinn Féin”. 

“Sinn Féin wants to talk about justice. Well, here’s your record and justice. You seek to politicise policing at every turn north and south. You continuously sow division and communities by undermining the gardaí and our Commissioner, and you undermine the state’s effort to tackle organised crime,” Chambers says. 

He says people “don’t want political games, people don’t want heads on plates”. 

Fine Gael’s Josepha Madigan is hitting out at Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald’s suggestion that it was two weeks before the school was contacted by the Government following the stabbing incident. 

Madigan requests that McDonald withdraws her comments. McDonald says she will not do so. 

Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire says “when you boil this down, we’re in a situation where there are less gardaí in the streets and less garda stations open than when Fine Gael took office”. 

“What happened Thursday a week ago was incredibly serious,” he says, adding it was one of the “worst” incidents in Dublin in many years. 

“But it was far from an isolated incident,” he says. 

Ó Laoghaire says he believes McEntee is a “decent woman” and has “empathy”. 

“But empathy is not going to put any garda boots on the ground where we need them,” he says. 

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Paul Murphy of People Before Profit-Solidary says they have “no confidence” in the Government and “want the Government to go”. 

Murphy is criticising the Garda response to dealing with the far-right.

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Education Minister Norma Foley says amongst the first responders to the stabbing outside the school were psychologists from the National Educational Psychological Service.

“I have 100% confidence in Minister McEntee in recognition of the strong and positive work that she does every single day,” Foley says. 

As we noted earlier in the liveblog, Mary Lou McDonald has has been accused of misleading the Dáil during today’s confidence motion in the Justice Minister.

The Sinn Féin leader told the Dáil that the Government did not contact the school at the centre of the knife attack on 23 November for “nearly two weeks”. 

Referring to the attack outside Gaelscoil Choláiste Mhuire in Dublin City, McDonald said today: “It took nearly two weeks for Government to reach out to the school community.”

Responding to her comment, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar accused McDonald of engaging in “absolutely disgraceful behaviour” and asked her to retract her comment. 

Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy says “this Government and this minister are completely out of touch with how crime and anti-social behavior have affected communities”.

He says “no amount of mudslinging by this Government will take away from the fact of their failure”.

“You may not like to be reminded of your failures, but we will keep reminding you and you may not like to be held to account but we will hold you accountable. You may refuse to listen to our communities and their concerns for public safety, but we are listening and they are telling us that they have no confidence in this Government and in this Justice Minister,” Carthy says. 

Independent Galway East TD Seán Canney said we should remember the gardaí that were out on duty the night of the riot. 

He said the debate today has shown a disregard of the gardaí and said both sides of the house need to “wise up a small bit”. 

He said right across government action is needed and that the opposition needs to come in behind them to “save democracy”.

Minister Simon Harris says “where ever the wind blows, Sinn Féin goes”. 

He accuses Sinn Féin of following the “populist playbook”. 

“They call for heads and offer no solutions,” he says.

“Deputy McDonald, you wanted the people of Dublin Central to #MaketheChange and vote a ‘popular and respected member of the community’ to Dublin City Council. That person was the Navan Road torturer Jonathan Dowdall. 

“You have had a good run. But people are starting to see nothing is more important to Sinn Féin than Sinn Féin,” he says.

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Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney tells the Dáil:

“I believe that our Minister for Justice has more integrity than Sinn Féin has in its entire organisation.

“I believe that the Garda Commissioner, whose father let’s not forget, was murdered by the IRA in his car on his way to church with his wife, has more integrity and has done more for the people of this island, north and south, in terms of law and order than any of you on the benches opposite”.

Fine Gael TD and former Minister for Justice Charles Flanaghan says Sinn Féin is “reverting to type” by putting down the institutions “North and South”.

“I reject that and I support Minister McEntee,” he says.

 

Independent TD Mattie McGrath says the government has “neglected and not supported the gardaí”.

He says, referring to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, he was “all for a Commissioner from outside the state, but this Commissioner hasn’t worked out”.

McGrath says he can also “regrettably” not support the minister.

Independent TD Carol Nolan says her lack of confidence in the Minister is because of her failures at policy level. 

She says it is not personal and acknowleges her “good work” in relation to gender based violence. 

She says the Department has “utterly failed” to ensure entry procedures into Ireland are “robust”. 

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice says the country has “gone too politically correct” and we are “afraid to say a lot of stuff”. 

He says he believes the Garda Commissioner has “lost the dressing room”. 

He says the day Helen McEntee walked up Dublin during the summer and said “the streets are safe” was the “day he lost faith” in her. 

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Justice Minister Helen McEntee is speaking now.

She notes that the Garda college was closed to new recruits for two years, adding “we would have had 1,000 additional gardaí to what we have now if it had not closed”. 

“We can ignore it, but it is a fact”. 

She is outlining to the Dáil the work she has done during her time as Justice Minister. 

McEntee tells the Dáil she will “continue to work to build stronger, safer communities”.

She says she will “not be deterred by Sinn Féin “which seeks to show division and disunity”. 

TDs are now voting on a motion of confidence in Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. 

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has survived the confidence motion, with 83 TDs voting in support of her.

63 TDs voted against confidence in McEntee and one abstened. 

Here is the result of the vote:

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That’s all from us on the liveblog this evening, thanks for sticking with our coverage today. 

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