New Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has promised that she’ll make sure the “voice of the people of Roscommon” is heard at the Cabinet table!
In an exclusive interview with the Roscommon People, Minister McEntee – whose husband, Paul Hickey, is a native of Castlecoote, Co. Roscommon – said that she is very happy to be considered an “adopted Rossie”. The minister added that now that travel restrictions are being lifted, she’s looking forward to visiting Roscommon again as soon as possible.
On her promotion to one of the most senior ministerial positions in government, Minister McEntee said it was “a surprise, but a nice surprise” to be told the news by her party leader, Leo Varadkar.
Less than 72 hours after receiving her seal of office, Minister McEntee spoke to the Roscommon People.
On her high profile appointment, she said: “The first I knew of it was on Saturday evening. The new Taoiseach (Micheál Martin) had been elected…I had just sat down for a quick bite to eat in Leinster House, when I got a call from my party leader and former Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. He said I was being offered ‘Justice’ – it was a surprise, but a good surprise!”
And her response? “I jumped at the chance. It’s a fantastic department, it covers so many areas. There is so much to be done and I am really looking forward to it”.
Implementation of recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland will be “a huge focus” for her, she said. There is, Minister McEntee added, a huge legislative workload ahead in the area of Justice. She has ambitions for her department and the new government to make progress in areas to do with immigration, and in regard to sexual and domestic violence. Further reforms of the courts and prison service are also on her agenda.
Already, Minister McEntee has addressed the Seanad (on Monday) when she spoke on the renewal of provisions of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998.
Minister McEntee said that there remains a real and persistent threat from republican paramilitary groups on this island, commenting: “The State will continue to confront those who act in opposition to the democratic wishes of the people on this island”.
She welcomed successes achieved by Gardai in the fight against gang-related crime, in terms of “significant” convictions and seizures of drugs, firearms and ammunition.
On organised crime, she said there is stark evidence of the willingness of organised groups to engage in murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug smuggling, counterfeiting and other serious offences.
Given that these criminals are prepared to kill, it’s her view that “the State requires legislation that can combat those who would seek to subvert the system through the intimidation of citizens”.
In her interview with the People, Minister McEntee acknowledged the huge challenges facing the country on foot of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Covid is still with us. Thankfully the numbers (of deaths, and infections) are falling. We’re trying to ease restrictions and this week (Phase 3) was a big step forward. But there is always the concern that there could be an increase again…
“We’re trying to manage the health and wellbeing of our country, but we also understand that without investment, there could be long-lasting implications for our economy. That’s why there will be a jobs’ stimulus announced (by Leo Varadkar) this month. There will be a new focus on jobs. That stimulus will, in particular, target industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic”.
Asked if she feels the Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme will be extended, Minister McEntee indicated that she expects this support to remain in place until the end of the year “for businesses that need it”.
“We need to support people…we also have to be conscious that we have the implications of Brexit coming…like a train…towards the end of the year. This (the challenge facing the country) is not going to be easy”.
However, Minister McEntee emphasised that it is a positive that Ireland can (and will) borrow money “at a significantly low interest rate”.
The new Justice Minister again extended her sympathies to the family of murdered Detective Garda Colm Horkan and to his colleagues in An Garda Síochána.
“I know people who worked with Colm, both through my own connections and through my connections with County Roscommon. His tragic death was devastating for his family and for his colleagues, and impacted on everyone”.
Minister McEntee says she hopes to meet with Detective Horkan’s colleagues in the near future. She said that the death of Detective Horkan was a stark reminder to everyone of the bravery of a community-focussed police force, the members of which “put themselves at risk” on a daily basis in the service of this country.
While acknowledging the controversy over the absence of any senior Cabinet minister in the West, Minister McEntee said that Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton and Chief Whip Dara Calleary (from Galway and Mayo respectively) will both sit at the Cabinet table and articulate strongly for the West.
In any event – and I don’t think it was a throwaway quip – the new Minister for Justice was quick to remind me of that ‘adopted Rossie’ status.
“I will make sure that the voice of the people of Roscommon is heard at the Cabinet table” Minister McEntee told the People.
And, speaking of Roscommon, the minister confirmed that she and her husband Paul have received a huge number of messages of congratulations and best wishes from the county.
“I have so many messages to go through on my phone. People have been very, very nice and very supportive and we really appreciate everyone’s kind sentiments. And, now that we can travel beyond county boundaries, we’re looking forward to getting down to Roscommon as soon as possible”.