Last Refuge


Helen McEntee Taoiseach

Helen McEntee

UNLESS SOME additional, damaging information emerges in the next week or so, justice minister Helen McEntee will survive the current crisis. However, the real damage is not that inflicted on the minister in her role as guardian of the nation and the streets of the capital city but on the grand project undertaken by Helen McEntee and her most entitled family – namely, seizure of the Fine Gael leadership and the office of taoiseach.

McEntee was promoted (by Leo Varadkar) packaged and presented (by a hand-picked team of family and party west wingers) as the youthful but calm new, liberal face of FG. A strategy depicting her as a justice minister with a liberal, reforming agenda reflected the modern, urban face of FG – something that was always risky for such a party. The real problem, however, was that McEntee was not politically or intellectually equipped for the job.

Some time ago, Goldhawk opined that Helen was over-tutored in her briefs, that she never looked comfortable unless she stuck to a supplied script and the result was that of an ambitious politician of no great substance. Last weekend, the aftermath of the mayhem on Dublin streets saw a welter of anonymous comments from politicians in her own party, who used pretty much the same language to describe their own justice minister – an almost iconic position in FG that is normally occupied by some strong, confident, even domineering personality.

The fact is that the grand project had been in trouble for some time before the PR disasters of last July’s Dublin crime controversy, the more recent riots around O’Connell Street and her damaging, repetitive denial that the streets are unsafe. Her wooden delivery in public had already betrayed a sense of weakness and she was unconvincing in her quest to persuade all or most interested parties that her liberal agenda was the way to go.

Now McEntee is facing a law ’n’ order crisis and the spectacle of Sinn Féin demanding accountability must be driving Blueshirts everywhere up the walls.

At the same time, the recent €11m sale of land owned by agri-tech company Devenish Nutrition – where her uncle, Tom McEntee, is chief executive – to the Office of Public Works has not gone away and could lead to some awkward questions in the near future.

Another extreme irritant – to the McEntee camp – is the continued imposition of Helen’s leadership rival (now unchallenged) Simon Harris into the debate about crime. Last. Monday Harris told RTÉ that he and Helen had made various initiatives in this regard with a graciousness indicating great loyalty to the party and the coalition Government (as opposed to naked ambition), not to mention that he no longer regards her as a leadership competitor.

Is this what Vlad had in mind when he imposed Harris on her department the last time she took a pregnancy break?

Helen can now look forward to a period of micro-management from her Taoiseach and his chief of staff, Brian Murphy, a relationship that launched her on what was supposed to be the road to the Taoiseach’s department back in 2017 when she was a junior minister in the Taoiseach’s office. They will ensure that Helen McEntee survives – as long as there are no more unpleasant surprises this side of Christmas – but they cannot revive her long-term ambitions of becoming taoiseach.

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