Inevitably the resumption of the Dáil for the first time since last week’s violence in Dublin city centre took over the political day. However, the main influence on where this crisis goes next lies outside the gates of Leinster House on the streets of the capital.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who is at the centre of the political firestorm, spoke on Tuesday of how further protests have not materialised, arguing this is partly due to the “huge work that gardaí have done since last Thursday”. Maybe so, but the riots are now a strong undertow influencing both politics and the wider public mood.
There are barriers outside Leinster House, while those inside the Dáil heard of city centre workers being told to stay home. Across the Liffey the Dáil was told of a machete attack on Talbot Street on Sunday. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was confronted by protesters as she attended an event in East Wall – where a year ago the first anti-immigration protests fanned into life. People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny had a meeting disrupted. There are many more gardaí on the streets of the capital as part of a ramped up presence that McEntee has promised will continue up to and over Christmas so people feel safe in the capital.
All of this reflects a basic truth to this moment of political and social jeopardy: that its trajectory depends on further unrest not approaching the threshold set by last week’s events.
The Government’s response has focused on recitations of the budget allocations for more gardaí, on new legislation, new equipment, praise for gardaí, and promises to pursue those who took to the streets last week. None of that masks the fact that its credibility has been undermined. If more unrest follows that credibility will be broken, and the political consequences of that for McEntee and the Government could be much more grave than the pressure and scrutiny they are under now.
That the defining rhythm of this crisis is set by action beyond Leinster House will not prevent the politicians from acting politically. Sinn Féin says McEntee should go and it continues to mull a no confidence motion in her; the Social Democrats, who have also called on her to resign, don’t have Dáil time to put down a motion until the new year.
Others are holding their fire for now. Michael Healy-Rae, a Kerry TD and member of the Rural Independent technical group, said on Tuesday McEntee was “out of step, out of line and was not and is not listening to the concerns of rank and file gardaí” – but asked if they would put down a motion of no confidence he said he and his Rural Independent colleagues haven’t discussed that yet.
Within Government parties there is no appetite for McEntee’s resignation. One Fianna Fáil TD says the crisis is not being personalised to her on the doors – constituents raise the riots, but unlike many political crises, voters this TD met are not attaching responsibility to her directly.
At Cabinet level support for McEntee is solid, yet there is coolness between her and a group of Dublin-based Fianna Fáilers who believe she has been slow to respond to their concerns about safety in the capital – something she would no doubt dispute.
None of them is shaky on the issue of voting confidence in McEntee if it comes to that – but the tone and content of public utterances from within the Coalition will be carefully dissected. “There’s no significant enthusiasm to defend a Minister who hasn’t engaged with you on anything,” was the private verdict of one Fianna Fáil TD.
All of this will play out across the political week – including on Wednesday, when Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will appear at the Justice Committee to discuss the riots.