McEntee condemns 'aggressive' protest but rules out 'sterile zone' at Leinster House

Mcentee Condemns 'Aggressive' Protest But Rules Out 'Sterile Zone' At Leinster House
The scenes outside the Oireachtas have prompted a review of security measures. Photo: PA
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By Vivienne Clarke and Gráinne Ní Aodha

Helen McEntee has said she would not like to see a "sterile" zone around Leinster House despite protests prompting a review of security measures.

The Minister for Justice was speaking in relation to widely criticised demonstrations outside Leinster House as the Dáil resumed after the summer recess on Wednesday.


The scenes outside the Oireachtas, including a mock gallows that had pictures of senior Government figures attached to it, have prompted a review of security measures.

Ms McEntee said she did not want access to the Dáil and the Seanad to be restricted in any way to the public as a result of the protest.

“I would not like to see that happen and I would not like to see the actions of a few small people, a minority, to change that,” she told RTÉ radio’s News at One.

“At the same time, we have to take it very seriously where somebody is threatened or where there is aggression in that way. And so the discussions today with our Ceann Comhairle and others, will, of course, be focused on what can we do to make sure that people feel safe coming in to work.”


Ms McEntee said she had been in Dublin from early on Wednesday and could see that garda measures were in place for the protest which they had known about in advance. But the situation escalated and gardaí had to respond.

“That is a plan that I suppose they would have in place as to what they do when the situation escalates. But we have to respond as the situation arises. So that shouldn't have happened and I have no doubt that if more needs to be done, it will be done. People need to be safe going back to work.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. Photo: PA

The Minister said that people had a right to peaceful protest, it happens on a daily basis outside Leinster House, but what happened on Wednesday was different. “There was aggression, there was intimidation. And it has absolutely no place in a democratic society.


“Those people who came to Leinster House, be it at the front or the back, were not there to engage. They were not there to make a point, or to get across a message, or to try and engage in a democratic way. They were there simply to be aggressive, to intimidate, not just ourselves as elected representatives, not just the gardaí, but also the people who are working and work there in Leinster House.”

Ms McEntee said she thought the gardaí dealt well with a difficult situation and made 13 arrests.

“That's obviously now before the courts and we have to trust those who are trained and who are in those positions with plans in place to be able to find and to be able to deal with it. But this is a small minority of people. They do not represent the majority of people. And it cannot be the situation that something like this is allowed to happen or that it is allowed to continue in this way.”

The safety of public representatives was always a matter of concern and the current situation would be reviewed. The matter would be discussed by the Minister and the Garda Commissioner.


“I don't want to live in a society and I certainly don't, as an elected representative, want us to be in a situation where we cannot walk up or down the street for fear of somebody intimidating or harassing, but also that our parliament would have to be shut off to other people watching.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe has said discourse that is sometimes hateful can be spread in “the darker recesses of the social media world”.

Mr Donohoe said there had been urgency in dealing with social media companies on what is posted online and said they would “continue to engage social media companies on this issue”.



“But, beyond that, I think an awareness of how we all talk about politics, and how we all discuss the role of politicians, is part of the antidote that is needed to the kind of behaviour that we saw yesterday,” he said.

Mr Donohoe criticised the protests as “appalling” and appealed to people who are interested in becoming involved in politics not to be deterred by Wednesday’s protests, describing them as “rare”.

He also said he had, in recent months, approved changes to Oireachtas allowances so that politicians can make necessary changes to their constituency offices.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe speaking at the National Ploughing Championships. Photo: PA

Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships on Thursday, Mr Donohoe said Ireland is a “very, very long way away” from seeing developments similar to the storming of the US Capitol last year.

He told reporters: “We have a very healthy democracy, and we also have a very healthy middle ground in Irish politics that I believe will act as insulation against those kinds of dark developments.

“But, at the same time, none of us can be complacent.

“Ultimately, what we saw yesterday was an attempt to intimidate the opening day of the Dáil, and we can’t accept that.”

Mr Donohoe said changes had been made to security measures at Leinster House, including new equipment and entry points, but that gardaí and Oireachtas authorities would review whether further steps were needed.


“Only in recent months I approved a change in the Oireachtas allowance system to allow and to support politicians and changes they need to make, particularly in their constituency offices, to put in place the security changes that are needed, so those steps have been taken,” he said.

“But we are dealing with a very disturbing further development of that intimidation, and that happened yesterday.

“I’m here with all of my political colleagues, we are walking around a massive assembly of Irish life, and we are getting great engagement from everybody here, and a vast sense of appreciation and recognition of the efforts that politicians do make, and that has been emphasised to me again here today.

“None of us are going to let the intimidation that we saw yesterday get in the way of the public representation that we are committed to, and the overwhelming majority of Irish people want us to do.”

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