Dublin riots: Helen McEntee refuses to withdraw use of term ‘scumbag’

Minister tells Committee on Justice ‘no personal circumstance’ forced anybody to set bus alight or attack gardaí on November 23rd

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has refused to withdraw her use of the word “scumbags” in the Dáil when discussing the November 23rd riots in Dublin.

Ms McEntee had told the House the rioters involved were trying to intimidate those seeking international protection, and went on to describe those involved in the violent scene as “scumbags” and “thugs”.

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin challenged the Minister’s use of the term when she appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice on Thursday. The Dublin Bay North Deputy said her use of the term was making it more difficult for youth workers and others to prevent youngsters from falling “into the hands of the far-right or drugs gangs”.

“Do you not accept that by labelling the entirety of what happened – everybody involved – by a phrase as classist as that was wrong?” he asked.


Ms McEntee said she would not withdraw her use of the word “scumbag”. “I have said what I said. I won’t take it back,” she said, adding that it was not language she “would normally use”, but that it reflected on actions seen that night, including the burning of a bus and Garda cars, and looting.

The Fine Gael TD said the words used were not an attack “on any group of people”, nor were they “an attack on any part of the city”.

Asked for a definition of the term “far-right” by Senator Sharon Keogan, the Minister said it was a political ideology that she considered included people who see themselves as anti-Government, anti-State, anti-immigration and anti-women’s rights. Ms McEntee added it was not a crime to have far-right beliefs.

Responding to Senator Lynn Ruane, who asked what the Government was doing to address social deprivation as a driver of violence, Ms McEntee said: “There’s no personal circumstance that forced anybody to set a bus alight, to attack a member of gardaí, to loot. We can’t excuse it.

“But at the same time, I absolutely appreciate we have to try to support people and work with people at the earliest stage possible to prevent it from ever getting to that point.”

Ms Ruane said that during the riots, “some people who lack purpose felt that, all of a sudden, there was a purpose”. She said “rationality and reason do not intersect in a moment like that when somebody has been ostracised for years”.

“That doesn’t excuse it or that somebody should not be held accountable,” she said, adding that “you have to ask the reason why” they got involved.

The Minister told the committee there would be between 700 and 800 extra gardaí available next year, with the first 153 new members of the force going on active duty this month.

She said new legislation would “put An Garda Síochána on a clear path to start rolling out bodycams on frontline gardaí next year” and that officers in Dublin city centre would have access to the recording devices from next spring.

“The shocking scenes we witnessed in Dublin show how crucial bodycams are to protecting gardaí and helping to bring criminals to justice,” Ms McEntee said. “We cannot keep sending gardaí into situations where they are the only ones without the ability to record what is happening.”

Ms McEntee also said gardaí “manually trawling” through thousands of hours of CCTV footage was “a shocking waste of their time” and that she intended to bring a Bill around the use of facial recognition technology to Government in the coming weeks to help ease this burden.

Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist