Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said arrangements for her maternity leave, which began on Tuesday, are a “sticking plaster” until a more permanent solution is found.
Meath East TD Ms McEntee, who on Tuesday received Cabinet approval to proceed with drafting legislation relating to reform of Garda oversight, is the first Minister in the history of the State to have a child while in office.
Her maternity leave is being facilitated by a complicated arrangement necessitated due to caps on the number of ministers a government can have, which will see Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys step into the role, supported by Ministers of State James Browne and Hildegarde Naughten.
“It’s really important women see other women in roles and positions being able to take maternity leave, being able to return to their jobs and the positions they were working in before,” Ms McEntee said.
“This [arrangement] is very much a sticking plaster, it’s not a long-term measure that we hope to put in place,” she said, adding that the Citizens’ Assembly had been asked to consider the issue, and that the Government was committed to addressing it.
"There may be legislative change required, there may be constitutional change required," Ms McEntee said. "There's a very clear commitment from Government at every level to act on that as quickly as possible, and to engage where necessary either with the Oireachtas or with members of the public if constitutional referendum is what is required."
The Minister for Justice also confirmed she has signed the commencement order for the Children’s Act, meaning the ban on reporting the names of children who were the victims of murder or manslaughter will be lifted from May 7th. She said she wanted to thank “the many, many families” she had engaged with in recent months “in what has been a very difficult time”.
Under reforms contained in the new Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate are to be merged, while new powers will see the Garda Ombudsman able to carry out no-warning inspections and begin investigations without a public complaint.
The legislation will implement many of the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland's 2018 report. Ms McEntee said that body undertook extensive work to examine the structures, governance and oversight of An Garda Síochána.
She said it identified many structures that were put in place “responding to issues as they arose and that’s why we needed to introduce such a significant piece of legislation to implement all of these measures and recommendations together”.
She said that, under the new proposed reforms which will mean the Garda Commissioner will be answerable to a non-executive board, the independence of the force and its accountability to the minister of the day will not be affected.
“This is about bringing in new experience, it’s about making sure the framework is there to support the Garda Commissioner in his work. He will still have complete independence in the day-to-day functioning of An Garda Síochána, that will be very clearly set out,” she said.