Justice Minister Helen McEntee has stressed that the hate speech bill is only “one bill out of 12” that she is working on, and that it is far from her only priority.
In a radio interview on RTÉ’s Today With Claire Byrne on Wednesday, it was put to McEntee that some have claimed “Fine Gael’s core identity is not being pushed” in the Department of Justice, because of McEntee’s “focus on the hate speech bill, while law and order is neglected.”
“Do you accept that criticism?” asked Claire Byrne.
McEntee replied that the hate speech and hate crime bill was just one project of many she was working on.
“The hate crime bill is one of 12 that I’m working on at the moment,” McEntee said.
“It is not my sole focus, it is not my sole priority. When I return in September I’ll be introducing the policing bill, which will be the biggest reform of An Garda Síochana since it was established.”
She added: “…The body-worn camera legislation will be enacted later this year, [and] a new piece of legislation to enact an agency on domestic violence.”
While many of her government colleagues had been critical of McEntee’s prioritisation of the hate speech bill publicly in the media, Claire Byrne asked the Minister if any of them had said it to her directly in private.
“No,” McEntee replied.
“Look, I’m always here to talk to colleagues. I’m always open to talking to colleagues, I engage with colleagues on any issue that they want. That has always been the case, and that will continue to be the case.”
Claire Byrne mentioned that one of McEntee’s government colleagues, Fianna Fáil former Minister Willie O’Dea, had accused her of “playing to the woke gallery” in an article published to his site entitled “Justice Minister Helen McEntee should focus on tackling crime and stop playing to the woke gallery.”
In the piece, O’Dea says:
“The public want [McEntee] to focus more on delivering safe streets than on playing to the woke gallery. Every minute spent pushing a flawed hate bill or allowing Gardaí who pursue criminals to be investigated, is a minute wasted.”
Responding to the criticism, McEntee said: “I will never apologise for the fact that I have prioritised domestic violence.”
“I’m not sure that’s what he’s referring to, now, when he’s saying playing to the woke gallery,” Claire Byrne replied.
“If he’s referring to one bill out of 12 that I’m working on, then again, I would stress that this is one bill out of 12,” said McEntee.
“It has not been put above anything else. Do I think that those who commit crimes against others simply because of who they are is an issue that we shouldn’t address? I do think we should address it. But it’s not the only focus that I have.”