McEntee a formidable adversary for FF

New TD welcomed to the Dáil

New TD Helen McEntee. Photograph: Alan Betson

New TD Helen McEntee. Photograph: Alan Betson


Minister for Justice Alan Shatter smiled broadly. There was not a judge in sight.

The recipient was the new TD for Meath East, Helen McEntee, whose first day in the Dáil chamber as a TD provided the only harmonious note. Shatter’s smile reflected the sweet victory for Fine Gael in the byelection.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Ministers, as well as a large turnout of Fine Gael TDs, were on hand to greet her as she was escorted into the chamber by Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe. Earlier, Kenny, who began his Dáil career after a byelection victory 38 years ago, had welcomed her with family and supporters on the plinth.

To sustained applause in the chamber, she was introduced to Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and party leaders. She took her seat next to Cork South-West colleague Jim Daly.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin noted that his byelection experience would be used in attempting to secure a Dáil seat in Meath East where the party currently has none. “I learned a lot about Meath East for well over six to eight weeks,’’ he said. “I can assure Deputy Helen McEntee that she will hear a lot about the experience I had in Meath East in the weeks and months ahead.’’

McEntee smiled. She will be a formidable political adversary for the Soldiers of Destiny.

The Minister for Justice later managed a half-smile when Government backbenchers rounded on Martin as he claimed there was a breakdown in the relationship between him and the judiciary. “The Minister has a sense that he is right on all occasions,’’ said Martin.

Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan observed; “You had that, once upon a time.’’

Given the levity of many TDs, with the exception of those in Fianna Fáil, who kept a straight face for their leader, judicial angst is not high on the Leinster House agenda. In contrast, rejection of the revised Croke Park agreement, word of which reached TDs in the late afternoon, certainly is.

“The Croke Park II proposals have gone down in flames,’’ said Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins. He asked the Taoiseach if he was resiling from the Government’s threat of further savage cuts to public service pay.

Kenny said the Government was committed to its decision to achieve €300 million in savings this year. The Government, he added, would have to reflect on the ballot and how it would proceed to achieve those figures.

There was no mention by the Taoiseach of the word “legislation’’, the thought of which is striking terror in the hearts of backbench TDs. Labour TDs, who today have their inquest on the party’s Meath East byelection debacle, looked glum. Martin predicted “a long summer, metaphorically speaking’’.

McEntee has walked into a series of political and parliamentary storms as she begins her Dáil career. No better woman.