The Irish Government’s response to riots in Dublin is and will be robust, the premier insisted as Sinn Fein levelled accusations of “delusion”.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he has full confidence in gardai, Garda management and Justice Minister Helen McEntee after Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald pressed for her removal.
Ms McDonald said the riots were a situation that had been “building for months” and noted that the Canadian, Australian and UK have issued warnings to citizens travelling to Dublin.
She said control of Dublin city centre was lost during the rioting centred on O’Connell Street last Thursday, which came shortly after a knife attack on children and a carer outside a school.
The government isn’t listening.
We need safe communities, safe towns and cities for all. Nothing less will do.
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) November 28, 2023
Ms McDonald accused the Government of “not listening” and said she has full confidence in gardai but none in Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Ms McEntee.
“Minister McEntee refused to accept that the control of Dublin city centre was lost. It seems the minister has moved from denial to full-blown delusion and she is clearly not the person to provide the leadership needed to restore public confidence in policing,” she said.
“Her position is now untenable, Taoiseach. You must do what is necessary and remove Helen McEntee as Minister for Justice.”
She continued: “The truth is the confidence in policing and public safety is at rock bottom… I am telling you straight and I’m telling you clear: we need a fresh start and Minister McEntee is not the minister – is not the person – to give the leadership that is required at this critical time.”
Mr Varadkar outlined measures including retaining two public order units in Dublin until at least Christmas, as well as accelerating plans for more gardai, more equipment for gardai and more prison places.
He said the Government’s response is “immediate, medium term and long term, and is going to be – and is – very robust”. He accused the Sinn Fein president of “playing politics” and “looking for heads”.
He described Ms McEntee as “a minister who has been leading and extremely active on the issues of law and order and criminal justice during her term in office”.
In exchanges during Leaders Questions in the Irish Parliament, Labour leader Ivana Bacik called for an independent review of Thursday evening’s events, describing a Policing Authority review as “not enough”.
“We need to see an independent review of what went wrong,” she said.
“We also need to see a real commitment from Government to tackle and target the far right to ensure intelligence-led policing is tackling and taking them on.
“And thirdly, we need a commitment from Government to give gardai the resources they need, frontline guarding, to ensure that we have more personnel that we don’t allow the numbers to drop, as they now are below 4,000.”
She also called for political unity, highlighting “grandstanding” not only from the opposition but from Fianna Fail senators.
“That’s grandstanding, that’s play acting at a time when what the people in this country and this city are calling out for is political leadership, a common unity of purpose against the really awful threat of the far right and we need to see that unity because we’re not even seeing it from Government,” she said.
Mr Varadkar said he would consider an independent review.
There had been pressure on Ms McEntee to respond to safety issues in the Irish capital before disorder broke out last week, resulting in cars, buses and trams being burned and shops being damaged and looted.
Speaking on her way into Cabinet on Tuesday, when Ms McEntee was due to update her colleagues on the Dublin riots, she said her focus remained on her job, saying: “That’s always been my priority.”
Finance Minister and Fianna Fail TD Michael McGrath and Minister for Transport and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said they backed the Fine Gael Justice Minister.
Mr McGrath said on Tuesday: “I believe she has the full support of her Cabinet colleagues – this is not about personalities.”
He said that “generally” he believes the capital is safe but the Dublin riots “would rock the confidence of many”.
“What happened last Thursday in Dublin was an affront to our democracy and the entire political system and all of our public bodies need to stand together in unison to take on these thugs,” he said.
“And that is why we need to have a very strong response to what has happened, and the public want to see there are consequences to the type of violence and disorder that we witnessed in the streets of our capital city last week.”
Mr Ryan said he would support Ms McEntee in any confidence motion but Dublin is “not safe enough”.
Asked about Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan saying she could not support Ms McEntee in a confidence motion, Mr Ryan said: “We’ll be voting support for the Government. We’re in Government.
“In Government you work collectively, you work together.
“So, yes, I’ll be voting confidence in (the) Minister of Justice and I think it’s important at this time that actually we deliver that increased safety.
“Both Drew Harris and the Minister of Justice, rather than just a political, ‘Oh, get rid of them, that’ll solve the problem’, (I) don’t think it will.
“We need to get down to work in Government and we will, collectively.”