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Helen McEntee survives, but something for everyone on night of heated Dáil debate

Debate on confidence in McEntee degenerates into festival of Sinn Féin-bashing — a favourite pastime, bar none, of Fine Gael TDs

The Government survived a vote of confidence in the Dáil last night, with the support of nine independent TDs giving the Coalition a comfortable majority of 83 votes to 63.

The Government amendment to the Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in Minister for Justice Helen McEntee was accepted at just past 7pm, after a debate that was sometimes heated, but whose result was never really in doubt.

This was the third confidence vote in this administration since the resumption of post-Covid politics in 2022. They arrive with biannual regularity now; the last one was in March of this year. The repeatedly wide margin of victory suggests that this Dáil is unlikely to be brought to an end by one of these motions, but rather by the choice of the Government’s leaders.

Still, there’s something for everyone in a motion of no-confidence.


For the Opposition, there’s the opportunity to strut their criticisms of this hapless, hopeless Government in the full glare of public and media attention and ask the watching voters — those of them watching, that is — if they can say they have confidence in the Government, and in whatever unfortunate Minister happens to be in the crosshairs at that particular time. They can pick from a selection of television clips of the leader denouncing the Government’s failures and flog them to death on social media accounts. And let’s not forget — as a strategy, kicking your opponent when he is down is not a bad one in politics. All of the above was at play in the Sinn Féin motion targeted at McEntee on Tuesday evening.

For the Government, though, it’s very far from one-way traffic against them. A motion can draw a line under a political controversy, as political debate and the media attention that sustains it tend to move on when the motion is defeated. It allows the Government to circle the wagons and kick back against its critics on the other side of the House. Very often when you’re in government it feels like you’re permanently under siege. Defeating a no-confidence motion feels like lifting the siege for a bit. Watching the debate, you got a sense this was the best day out Fine Gaelers had in the Dáil for ages. And, of course, most confidence motions are defeated; the alternative, after all, is a general election.

And the alternative last night would be a general election held, perhaps, between Christmas and the new year — not an outcome that many TDs would relish, whatever their party.

Nonetheless, everyone played their part, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the streets of Dublin “haven’t been safe for some time”. There was, she said, “an ever-present hum of menace, risk and an overriding lack of personal safety”. And the disorder, she said, was “entirely predictable”.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin, however, had just pointed out that if the riots were so predictable, then it was curious that the Sinn Féin leader had not used her copious Dáil time to predict them and warn everyone.

In fact, the Sinn Féin benches were oddly subdued; it almost seemed as if their hearts weren’t in it.

A few of them tried to raise a gallop. Louise O’Reilly told us she was very proud to be a Dub — not, it is fair to say, the first time the House has heard this — but that the streets of Dublin “have not been safe for some time”.

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She was not the only Sinn Féin TD to declare her pride in the capital — Mark Ward did too, though the effect was somewhat undermined by the fact he was wearing a tweed three-piece suit of the type that might be sported by a pheasant-shooting country squire, or Nigel Farage, or Darby O’Gill.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe contradicted McDonald’s assertion that there has been no contact with the school from the Government (something echoed by several Coalition speakers) and the Sinn Féin leader, for a time, looked uncomfortable. Along with much of the Sinn Féin shadow frontbench, she spent much of the debate tapping on her mobile phone.

In fairness, their lack of interest in contributions from the Government benches was understandable, because the debate turned into a festival of Shinner-bashing, in which Fine Gael TDs queued up to lacerate their opponents. And they looked to be enjoying themselves. This is Fine Gael TDs’ favourite thing to do, bar nothing.

“Mary Lou Trump!” declared Josepha Madigan, so pleased with the jibe that she repeated it. “Public Order Pearse!”

Pearse Doherty gazed across the floor with a look of disdain.

Fine Gael TDs delighted in reminding their Sinn Féin counterparts of youthful indiscretions which involved, ah, misunderstandings with the forces of law and order they are now so devoted to defending.

More seriously, several speakers also recalled gardaí who had been murdered by the IRA when Sinn Féin operated as its political wing — a fact of history that younger voters often regard as just a fact of history, but which many older voters consider something more immediate, more recent, and much more important than that. That remains one of the fundamental divides in Irish politics.