Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has accused Justice Minister Helen McEntee of failing “abysmally” in her responsibilities as the Dail debated a motion of confidence in her post following a stabbing attack and violent riot in Dublin city centre.
A five-year-old girl is in a critical condition in hospital and two other children were injured after the knife attack near a school on Parnell Square East in Dublin’s inner city.
A woman aged in her 30s who worked as a carer, and who has been called “heroic” after she tried to protect children during the attack, is also seriously injured.
Gardai said the person of interest in the case was receiving treatment in hospital.
In subsequent disorder involving 500 people, gardai estimate that damage worth tens of millions of euro was done to public infrastructure.
Sinn Fein tabled a motion of no confidence in Ms McEntee following the events.
Ms McDonald told the Dail on Tuesday: “Let me be clear, the only person responsible for the stabbing nightmare is the perpetrator. Those responsible for the riot were the rioters.
“But it is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice to ensure that our streets are safe, to ensure that An Garda Siochana have the resources that they need. And she has failed in these responsibilities abysmally with very dire consequences.”
Ms McDonald said people have been “robbed of their safety” during Fine Gael’s time in Government and added that Ms McEntee was “incapable” of providing the leadership to make streets and communities safe.
Speaking in response to a Government countermotion on confidence in Ms McEntee, she added: “The minister’s position is untenable and she must go.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the original Sinn Fein motion was a “distraction” from the work of making Dublin’s streets safer.
Mr Varadkar said the Government’s thoughts are firstly with the “schoolchildren and their carer who were so brutally and senselessly attacked last Thursday week”.
The Taoiseach said Ms McEntee was “trustworthy, sincere, intelligent and loyal” as he expressed full confidence in her.
Mr Varadkar said: “The Sinn Fein motion of no confidence was a political stunt – unnecessary and counterproductive.
“People want us to work together to improve law and order, not just in Dublin – but across the whole country. Removing the Justice Minister and the Garda Commissioner, which is Sinn Fein policy, 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 should be sufficient to vote with the Government here tonight.”
Tanaiste Micheal Martin expressed confidence in Ms McEntee and accused Sinn Fein of seeking to “intimidate opponents and journalists alike”.
He added: “The cynicism and aggression continues to directly undermine the ability of our democratic institutions and democratically elected representatives to work constructively on issues.”
Mr Martin said Ms McDonald had claimed that “everyone could see the disorder coming” but had not raised the concern at Leaders’ Questions during the last three months.
He added: “If Deputy McDonald was concerned about gardai being abused and on O’Connell Street, all she needed to do was consult her front bench which includes unique expertise on such behaviour.
“If she thought criminal elements in the north inner city were a threat, she might have been more open when answering questions about her personal support for the political career of a notorious violent criminal – a person with direct links to the nastiest gang ever seen in this city.”
Labour justice spokesman Aodhan O Riordan said there had been a “cross-government failure” to properly resource An Garda Siochana as he said the party would not be supporting the Government’s motion in confidence for the justice minister.
He added: “We have no confidence in your Government’s management of justice issues in our country. The people of Ireland deserve so much better. They deserve vision, ambition and an agenda with social justice burning at its core.”
Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said said it was justifiable to seek accountability following an “absence of collaboration” from Government on safety in the city.
Elsewhere in the debate, Mr Varadkar accused Ms McDonald of engaging in “absolutely disgraceful behaviour” after she said it took “nearly two weeks” for Government to reach out to the school community affected by the stabbing.
Mr Varadkar said: “The leader of the opposition has quite disgracefully misled the Dail. There was contact from the Government with the school within 24 hours of the events.
“Several ministers did so. She knows that, it’s deliberate misleading and it should be withdrawn. I call on her to be decent for once and withdraw it.”
Minister Josepha Madigan further described the Sinn Fein leader as “Mary Lou Trump” over the comments.
Ms McDonald said she would not withdraw the remark and that she had stated facts.