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McEntee takes a big step with plans for addressing domestic violence

Inside Politics: Product of new plans will be closely watched by those demanding change

Good morning,

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee is to brief her Cabinet colleagues on a report from Tusla on refuge places for victims of domestic violence. We report this morning that the review found serious holes in the provision of refuge places, and recommends urgent action to tackle it. It also contains a landmark move from McEntee to set up a new agency to tackle the issue of domestic, sexual and gender based violence (DSGBV). There are Programme for Government commitments in this area, and the Minister has made reform a centrepiece of her agenda, but this is nonetheless a “major departure”, in the words of one source.

Setting up a new statutory agency is a big step. It’s not an explicit recommendation of the Tusla review, so there’s an element of the Minister picking up the ball and running with it. There are whispers doing the rounds that civil servants in her department were less than enamoured with the idea of taking on the area from the Department of Children, where they had so recently offloaded Direct Provision. If there were such concerns, McEntee appears to have come out on top. The pressure will now be on making it count.

Issues like DSGBV – especially when they become topical, like in the wake of the killing of Ashling Murphy – come with immediate demands for political attention. Like economic inequality, or racially motivated violence, they can spark widespread movements for change (the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements), but solving them is more difficult than demanding they be solved. No one legal or political move can address these issues. Recent profound social and political changes in this country (Repeal and marriage equality) have been more structured, in that a mandate was given for constitutional change, and everything flowed from that. Giving political and legal form to demands for action on DSGBV is more complicated. Making good on political promises – especially once the white-hot heat of controversy or trauma begins to fade – requires political commitment and vision – not to mention skill. McEntee is showing intent to follow through. The system as it is currently set up, with a sprawling range of state bodies and Government departments involved, is complex and confused, while trust between stakeholders can be stretched. It will take a deft hand to make those mountains move. The end product will be closely watched, by those who demand change, and by those monitoring McEntee’s political trajectory.

More on this story here.

Russia-Ukraine tensions

Elsewhere, storms are bearing down on the country as winter prepares to give the country a last rattle, but the literal tempest in Ireland is nothing compared to the growing tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border. Our lead today comes from Daniel McLaughlin, who reports on the increasingly frayed situation in Ukraine, where German chancellor Olaf Scholz travelled to amid a deepening sense of crisis. Ireland is moving up through the gears on its response, advising all citizens to leave the country. The embassy in Kyiv remains open, however, with a small number of essential workers and diplomats present. There will be parliamentary action on this story in Dublin today, with Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko at the foreign affairs committee at 3pm.

Our lead, on Ukraine, is here.

Our front page line-up is completed by another call for Dublin Port to vacate its home in the North inner city, sacrificing itself in favour of housing and offices. The latest intervention comes from the Docklands Business Forum, a body comprising 200 local companies including Google and consultants Accenture, Arthur Beesley reports. It’s a formidable cast of characters, and a striking intervention (“a bold statement,” says its chief executive), but the Port company has deployed its tried and trusted defence, based on a series of studies released two years ago. Dublin Port chief executive Eamon O’Reilly told Beesley: “We have had no serious or detailed response to what we published from anyone, let alone from the Docklands Business Forum, and we don’t take their views at all seriously.” Ouch.

It’s tempting to see this as another interchangeable attempt to take on the Port, which has previously seen off all comers. However, there is a cumulative impact here, and there is the looming prospect of a directly elected mayor for the capital, following a citizens’ assembly to be convened on the matter. Reform of Dublin Port, in a way that could signify a shift from heavily criticised housing and planning policies in the capital (build to rent and co-living, for example), could soon become a proving ground for someone’s political ambitions. One to watch – holding back the tide here could become more challenging still.

Read more on this story here.

Best reads

Pat Leahy and Jennifer Bray report on growing political momentum to end the mask mandate for school children, as early as next week. With the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meeting on Thursday, expect more developments on this as the arguments for the final remaining Covid restrictions are given a going-over. Leahy and Bray's story is here.

Jen Hogan has an interesting feature on the ongoing retention of masks in schools, and the potential disruptive effect of this and other Covid interventions on education and development. "Every bit of fun is a no", a teacher told Hogan.

Fintan O'Toole casts an eye over how the Government's political commitments on retrofitting could yet be undermined by the legacies of the Celtic Tiger, which left a series of building scandals in its wake, and a dearth of investment in developing new talents within the building trade.

Meanwhile, amid ongoing debate over the vexed choices inherent in energy policy, DCU's Sadhbh O'Neill, an assistant professor at the school of law and government, runs the rule over simplistic arguments that nuclear power could provide the key to unlocking the climate crisis.

Playbook

The first port of call today is Cabinet, which will discuss tightened lobbying rules, among other things. The move follows controversy over the appointment of former junior minister for finance Michael D'Arcy to a role with the Irish Association of Investment Managers. Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath wants to introduce legislation making it a failure to comply with statutory cooling off periods, punishable with fines of up to €25,000, and bans on lobbying activity. More here.

Action in the Dáil opens up this week at 2pm, with Leaders' Questions from Sinn Féin, Labour, PBP-Solidarity and the Regional Group. Taoiseach's questions is at 3.05pm, before a Government motion to establish Citizens' Assemblies, and the establishment of the Office of the Protected Disclosures Commissioner. Sinn Féin has private members' business on the cost of living – and the role of institutional investors (those dastardly cuckoos and vultures, to you and I). Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is taking oral questions at 8.20pm – expect some awkward questions for the Minister following this weekend's publication of the unvarnished views of his officials on the HSE – before topical issues at 9.50pm. Full schedule can be found here.

Over at the committees, the livewire (sorry) issue of electricity and energy will be discussed at the environment committee, which hears from the chairperson of the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities at 11am. Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill is on the cards for the health committee, also at 11am. The Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill is due for discussion at the justice committee, that's at 3pm, and the foreign affairs committee will hear from the Ukrainian ambassador at the same time. The full committee schedule is here.

The Seanad will debate the legislation underpinning the €200 energy rebate at 4.45pm, and the report of the environment committee on the carbon budgets. The full schedule is here.

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