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Speech by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee – Confidence Motion in the Minister for Justice

5th December 2023 - Helen McEntee, TD

Ceann Comhairle, I know the thoughts of everyone in the House remain with the victims of the appalling attack that took place 12 days ago outside Gaelscoil Choláiste Mhuire.

My thoughts are particularly with the young child and her carer who intervened so bravely and who both remain in a critical condition in hospital. We are all wishing for their full recovery.


It is a great honour to be Minister for Justice. I see it as my duty to build stronger, safer communities. To ensure people are safe and feel safe. To support victims. To back An Garda Síochána, our Prison Officers and our Courts. And to use the time I have as Minister for good.

There are challenges, but we are making real progress in addressing them. Resourcing our Gardaí, tackling domestic violence and abuse, tougher sentences, and giving communities a real say in their own safety are all being progressed on my watch.

Of course, more Gardaí are needed. The Garda budget is a record €2.31 billion in 2024 – a 23 per cent increase since I became Minister in 2020. Recruitment into An Garda Síochána is building momentum following the forced closure of the Garda College due to Covid-19.  We would have 1,000 extra Gardaí now if we did not have to close the college during the pandemic. You might want to ignore that – it is a fact.

Between 700 and 800 new recruits will enter the college this year. Next year, we will have new recruitment campaigns for An Garda Síochána and the Garda Reserve. We have increased the Garda training allowance by two thirds and increased the age of entry from 35 to 50 years. Garda staff have increased by over 50 per cent since 2015. They are doing a great job and are freeing up 900 Gardaí to the frontline.

And we will do more to support new and current members of An Garda Síochána. We are building new Garda stations and have the highest number of Garda cars and vans ever. As Gardaí build law international enforcement coalitions to bring the crime gangs who spread misery in our communities to justice, we are supporting them. That includes Government deciding today to open negotiations with the United Arab Emirates on an extradition treaty.

I have passed a series of laws to protect victims and punish perpetrators.                                       These include:

  • doubling the maximum sentence for assault causing harm to 10 years;
  • increasing the sentence for conspiracy to murder from 10 years to life;
  • increasing the sentence for assaulting a Garda or emergency worker from 7 to 12 years.
  • Working with Deputy Naughten to improve the post release supervision of sex offenders and provide for electronic tagging
  • ensure access to communications data to protect national security and tackle serious crime;


Last week, we passed legislation to allow Gardaí roll out bodycams, starting in Dublin city centre next Spring. We cannot expect Gardaí to manually trawl through thousands of hours of video footage. When people are rightly calling for more visible policing, this is a shocking waste of time. This is why I will introduce Facial Recognition Technology.


Tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is one of my top priorities. And I have been fortunate on some occasions to have support from all sides of the House. I was glad of the support of Deputy Daly, Deputy O’Riordáin and others when we passed the Bill to establish our new domestic violence agency, Cuan, in January.

Legislation to update our incitement to hatred laws and introduce hate crimes was supported – almost unanimously – across the House.

Our Zero Tolerance plan will have a real and lasting effect in tacking the epidemic of violence against women. It’s important to remember exactly we’re talking about. Its women being abused, strangled, beaten, subject to coercive control, stalked, sometimes stabbed or worse.

So we are doubling the number of refuge spaces. Dedicated Family Courts will meet the needs of families at moments of real difficulty. We are reforming education and raising awareness so we can challenge the attitudes which can underpin violence and abuse.

Working with Deputy Howlin, I enacted laws to criminalise intimate image abuse. I have increased funding to frontline organisations who protect victims to record levels. I established the Victims Forum to ensure the voices of victims are heard on how we draft laws and provide services.

Separate to these issues, I have also introduced a series of measures to help bring down the cost of insurance. We have rebalanced the duty of care. And building on the work of my colleague Deputy Flanagan, I introduced personal injuries guidelines. I have a plan to build spaces for 600 more prisoners. And the appointment of 24 extra judges this year will speed up our courts.

That is my record and I am proud to stand over it.


I have also listened to those who have concerns about safety in Dublin. We have a wonderful capital city, enriched by many nationalities. I understand that every person living in, working in, and visiting this city wants to feel safe and be safe. I know that this is not always the case.

I have listened to the experiences of those living and working in the city, not just recently, but over the last number of years. We opened O’Connell Street Garda Station, re-opened Fitzgibbon Street station, and launched Operation Citizen to prioritise high visibility policing.

€10 million in extra overtime was allocated to complement the work of the 3,742 Gardaí who currently work in Dublin. But we all know that policing alone cannot solve all problems.

We must be mindful too of the responsibility we ask our city centre to shoulder in accommodating many vulnerable people. I have established a new Community Safety Partnership in the north inner city to bring everyone around the table – An Garda Síochána, health, education providers, communities and their representatives – to improve safety.

Our Garda reforms allowed us establish dedicated community policing teams in the city centre – further strengthening the bond between our Gardaí and the communities they serve. Of course, the more Gardaí we have, the stronger our community policing teams.


Ceann Comhairle, the scenes we saw in Dublin on November 23 were disgraceful. Seeing thugs exploit an appalling attack on schoolchildren to loot, riot and burn shocked us all. These criminals will be brought to justice. An Garda Síochána contained the riot and restored law and order in the space of hours.

The men and women who put themselves in harm’s way that night will always have my support. The same cannot be said of Sinn Féin. It has been quick to fall back on its usual playbook of division and disunity. Of using an appalling situation to play politics and score points. And to once again undermine An Garda Síochána.

It’s worth repeating Ceann Comhairle: I pick up the phone to support An Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner. Deputy McDonald picks up the phone to call for his head. 12 days on, and still nothing constructive has come from the Sinn Féin benches.

When people want stability, they want instability. Sinn Féin’s instinct is to sack, sue and bully. Deputy McDonald wants to fire the Garda Commissioner. Deputy O’Broin wants to fire civil servants who disagree with him. When we need calm heads and dialogue to help our citizens in difficult situations abroad, they want to expel ambassadors.

When journalists report facts freely and fairly, Sinn Féin sues them.  Anyone in their own party with an independent thought is bullied until they comply or leave. It might surprise Deputy McDonald to hear that Government is not an episode of The Apprentice. You cannot fire your way out of a difficult situation. It is a serious business that requires judgement and leadership. Qualities she and her party repeatedly fail to show.


We have to ask ourselves, Ceann Comhairle, what would she do as Taoiseach in times of difficulty? After sacking her Minister for Justice and her Garda Commissioner, where would she turn for advice on security and policing? To the same ‘Republican Family’ who said it was OK to ignore Covid rules for a political funeral? To the same people she consulted before she unashamedly politicised policing in the past?

Because this is nothing new for Deputy McDonald. When Gerry Adams was arrested and questioned as part of the investigations into the murder of Jean McConville, she said it was “politically contrived”. She immediately sought to undermine Commissioner Harris when he was appointed in 2018. And now she attacks the Garda Commissioner and our Gardaí again.

Deputy McDonald will know the line:  “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” No matter how she tries to fool the Irish people, her first instincts are still the same. Undermine and attack our Gardaí. Sow disunity and division. When people want unity and leadership.


It has been a difficult few weeks, above all for the victims of the recent appalling attack, for their families and their community. They remain at the forefront of my mind. So too is the safety of the Irish people.

All of my actions during my time in office have been taken to make people safer, and make them feel safer. It is for this reason I will continue working to build stronger, safer communities. And I will not be deterred by a Sinn Féin party which seeks to sow division and disunity for its own ends.

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