Minister McEntee greeting Meath Co Council cathaoirleach Cllr Sean Drew at the official opening of the Nobber Greenway

Meathman's Diary: Helen McEntee's political gongs

Christmas can be a sad time for many families as they remember the empty chair around the table, and it is almost a decade since the late Meath East TD and junior minister, Shane McEntee, was laid to rest on Christmas Eve 2012 in Nobber, following his tragic death.

The subsequent by-election saw his daughter, Helen, a politics and communications graduate, elected to the Dáil, and her late father would no doubt be delighted to hear her named as ‘minister of the year’ on RTE Radio’s Late Debate Political Awards 2021 Special last week, with the panellists mentioning her as a possible future Fine Gael party leader and Taoiseach.

Katie Hannon had gathered a selection of national political correspondents – Paul Hosford from the Irish Examiner, Philip Ryan of the Irish Independent, Christina Finn of, former Fine Gael TD, Kate O’Connell, and the chairman of the judging panel, the doyen of Irish political reporting, Michael O’Regan of The Irish Times.

Even though McEntee was absent for a lot of the year due to her maternity leave – itself regarded as a ground-breaking statement – the panel was impressed with the workload she was getting through at Stephen’s Green.

Finn pointed out that the Justice brief has often been in the news for all of the wrong reasons, and that there always seemed to be banana skins to slip a minister up. It was regarded as a bit of a dysfunctional department, always under review for amalgamation, she added.

"But Helen McEntee came in with a fresh pair of eyes, and seems to be absolutely charging through the legislation," she continued. "Every single week, there’s some sort of new measure, and stuff that has been left on the shelf for years, like the online abuse/revenge porn legislation that has been talked about since 2014, she has come in and put it on the Statute Books."

Hannon agreed that she had never seen a minister being applauded like Helen McEntee had been outside Government Buildings last week in extraordinary scenes when she introduced measures for immigrants here to regularise their status in an amnesty.

O’Regan said she had navigated the Department of Justice very well, an extremely difficult ministry, had set the precedent for maternity leave for women politicians, and introduced the immigrant amnesty.

Paul Hosford pointed out that it had all been so different a year ago, when Seamus Woulfe’s appointment to the Supreme Court by the Government was the burning controversy, and Helen McEntee could have faced a motion of no confidence.

Other ministers suggested were Paschal Donohoe and Micheal McGrath, Simon Harris, and Heather Humphreys, who stood in for McEntee during her maternity leave, but the panel trumped for McEntee as the award winner.

She was also named winner of the Source of Pride award by Fionnán Sheehan in Monday’s Irish Independent, for making history by becoming the first cabinet minister to have a baby while in office, making a vital sign to society by taking six months’ maternity leave, overcoming constitutional, legal and political conundrums.