Taoiseach ‘frustrated’ at protests taking place at politicians’ homes

Simon Harris answered questions on electioneering over the budget, Helen McEntee and promises he has committed to.

Taoiseach Simon Harris speaking to the media
Taoiseach Simon Harris speaking to the media (Brian Lawless/PA)

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said that he is “concerned” about several protests outside parliamentarian’s homes following a demonstration at the weekend.

Mr Harris said he is “frustrated” that they are still taking place years after a protest outside his own home when he was minister for health.

During an interview on RTE Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show, Mr Harris also said it was his decision to keep Helen McEntee in the role as Justice Minister, that the three-party coalition government was working well, and said political leaders needed to be ambitious.

Asked about the protest at the home of Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman, he said he intends to put a focus on this issue this week.

He said on RTE’s Today with Claire Byrne show: “It’s happened at my house, it’s happened at the home of the leader of Sinn Fein, it’s happened at Paul Murphy’s house. It’s happened to government TDs, it’s happened to opposition TDs, it’s happened to people who aren’t TDs and I am very concerned.

“What I want clarity on this week is a very simple question: Is this a matter of enforcement or a matter of law?

“In other words, are the laws that we have robust enough and therefore they just need to be enforced, or do we need new law?”

He added: “I’m a little frustrated here, to put it mildly, I’m a little frustrated that this is going on far too long. It’s been a long time since (2019) when people were outside my home.”

He said if new laws are not needed, he wants an assurance on how the existing laws are going to be enforced.

“I’d be equally as disgusted if this happened outside the home of a leader of the opposition,” he said, adding that he intends to give this “a bit of time this week”.

Mr Harris has said he does not believe something has gone wrong in relation to public safety, but is aware that people around the country “don’t feel safe at times on our streets”.

“My job is not to tell people how they feel, my job is to address how they feel, and it’s to make sure that the streets are safer,” he said, adding that this would be done through increasing garda numbers and introducing garda body cams.

He also defended Ms McEntee’s work in the Justice department as “tough on crime”, and said though he “gave consideration to all aspects of my cabinet”, he was satisfied to keep Ms McEntee in post.

He added: “There’s nothing ‘woke’, whatever that means, in relation to placing your focus on issues that haven’t been looked at for a long number of years, and when I look at the work that’s been done by the minister, by the department of justice, around sexual and gender-based violence and the likes, Minister McEntee has my full support on a zero-tolerance approach.”

Mr Harris said he had “valuable” conversations with Ms McEntee, deputy Fine Gael leader Heather Humphreys, Paschal Donohoe and Hildegarde Naughton about “where they thought the direction of Fine Gael in government should go”.

Asked about comments from the Green Party leader and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan, in which he urged caution about promises before the Budget in October, the Fine Gael leader said: “Look, Eamon is well able to spend a few bob as well.

“I think he’s a decent politician and a decent person and he had his party conference and people say things at their party conferences.

“Much to the disappointment of many, the three leaders in government are working well together. Yes, we lead distinct parties, but we do have a programme for government, and we have a period of time between now and March 22 to make as much progress on as many issues as we can for people.”

Mr Harris has said that he wants to “settle the question” on how to fund RTE by the Dail’s summer recess.

“But to me I don’t think the different approaches to funding public service broadcasting is as dramatic as sometimes presented,” he said, adding that doing it through a tax, licence or from the Exchequer is all money from the public.

“I have an open mind, I believe there’s only two options, I don’t believe the difference between them is that radical, but before we address them, I need certainty from RTE.”

Mr Harris defended his track record in the Department of Health, particularly on the number of children waiting for scoliosis treatment, and insisted that the number of children waiting over four months was “dramatically down” before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

He also defended his promise at a Fine Gael Ard Fheis conference in Galway that 250,000 homes will be built over the next five years, an increase on the current government’s targets.

In the last four years, around 100,000 new homes have been built.

He said: “It would be a very odd political leader who would stand up at a podium at a party conference and promise the people that for the next five years, the scale of your ambition isn’t going to increase, it has to increase to get people out of the box room.”

He added: “Leadership change has to amount to something. Leadership change has to mean that people go in with renewed energy to tackle some of the biggest issues we face in our country – otherwise, why would I do this job?”

He said later on Monday that he will chair the first Cabinet committee on disability, which he said he wanted to make progress on during his time as Taoiseach.