“The more support families get, the more beneficial it is for everyone,” says McEntee
Attorney General Helen McEntee has a lot on her plate. The trailblazer has made a name for herself since first winning her seat in the Dáil and twice serving as junior minister before Leo Varadkar entrusted her with the justice portfolio.
He was famously the first cabinet minister to take maternity leave during his tenure.
She returned to work last October and her husband Paul Hickey will return to work next week after the pair each took six months off to spend time with their son.
“I would have liked to have taken more,” says McEntee. We are at Government House on Wednesday, the eve of Baby Michael’s first birthday.
“You have the six months, you have options for other ways to take extended leave. I decided against it because I felt like I wanted to go back to work.”
Asked whether the statutory six-month paid maternity leave should be extended, she says it’s about giving women “opportunities” by encouraging men to take their maternity leave too.
“Let’s face it, it’s very difficult to find childminders or a daycare center for a baby under the age of one,” she says.
“The more support we can have for families to have a child with them up to the age of one, I think that’s beneficial for everyone.
“There are ways we do it, not necessarily extending the legal six months, but I think a lot of people end up taking a lot more than that.”
McEntee appears relaxed and happy, excitedly chatting about a friend who just had a baby.
As we sit down in a room next to one of the Corridors of Power, she quickly switches to ministerial mode and her voice lowers.
In fact, she dodges more questions than she answers, and even when she answers, it feels like she’s regurgitating prepared lines given to her by her advisors.
The minister has seen colleagues plunged into deep, damaging controversies in recent months and is wary of speaking out.
She refuses to say if she would vote for Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach in December if the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has still not made a decision on leaked government documents by then.
“I think everyone is entitled to a fair and due process, and I think that’s what’s happening here,” she says.
Surely party TDs worry about that?
“I think every member of the party I’ve spoken to understands that everyone deserves a due process. It has to be like this. I mean everyone deserves this process.”
But Fine Gael is supposedly the law and order party and she is not only a TD of that party but also the country’s Minister for Justice? “So I can’t really comment on that, you know,” she says.
McEntee is no stranger to controversy. Since taking office, she has faced some uncomfortable questions about the nomination of former Attorney General Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court and donations she received from Tayto Park boss Ray Coyle.
However, she does not rule out not accepting further donations from Mr. Coyle.
“Everything I received was declared,” she says. “If someone wants to make a statement or make a payment, then of course it has to be declared in an appropriate way – and that applies to everyone.
“I think everyone has the right to support a political party or an individual. Everyone must follow fair procedures and processes.”
Unlike many of her peers, McEntee does not take the opportunity to criticize Sinn Féin when the opportunity presents itself.
The opposition party has been roaring in the polls for months and many believe it will soon be in power. What does Fine Gael have to do to beat Sinn Féin at the ballot box?
“I don’t think it’s about hitting anyone. I think Fine Gael needs to focus on their strengths,” she says.
“As a party, we are committed to our party members, we work in our constituencies, we do our daily work. So I’m a minister, but I mean I have the day-to-day work in my office.
“For me, this is my bread and butter. That’s, you know, that’s what chose me. That’s why I was elected in the first instance. I have to keep doing this. And I think, really, that’s where the members are.”
Defamation reforms have been enacted by many governments, and this week Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald sued RTÉ under those same laws.
McEntee has pledged to introduce legislation by the end of the year that is expected to result in defamation juries being scrapped.
“I will not comment on what any other person or party is doing. I think everyone has the right to come back to my point, to have a fair trial and to protect their own good name,” she says.
“We have to ensure that the media is allowed to do its job. And of course we do not in any way prevent the media from commenting on important matters. So I think it’s about finding that balance.”
The minister was commended for her work in launching a program for undocumented migrants in that country aimed at giving them the right to stay.
It will be open for six months and so far there have been more than 4,000 applications from more than 5,000 people. Only 288 applicants have been given the green light so far – nowhere near the 17,000 forecast.
“I hope that people know that there have been successful applications and that people now have the path to citizenship, that will encourage people to apply,” she says.
What’s next for the minister? Does Varadkar’s throne beckon the Fine Gael or that of the Taoiseach?
Many see her as the next party leader, which people say is “very nice,” she says.
Some believe she would be up against Secretary of Education Simon Harris, who has more Cabinet experience and is very media-savvy but whose stint as health secretary during the CervicalCheck scandal did not improve his reputation.
“I’m ambitious in my work, but that ambition really extends to justice,” says McEntee. “And that’s where I am right now.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/the-more-support-families-get-the-more-beneficial-it-is-for-everyone-says-mcentee-41602224.html “The more support families get, the more beneficial it is for everyone,” says McEntee