Dáil protest over cuts to maternity benefit

Women say €32 per week reduction in payment is an attack on mothers and families

Catherine McGowan (centre with her baby Sophie) with Jacqueline Healy (left) and Elva O’Callaghan from the National Women’s Council of Ireland protesting against maternity benefits outside the Dáil. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Catherine McGowan (centre with her baby Sophie) with Jacqueline Healy (left) and Elva O’Callaghan from the National Women’s Council of Ireland protesting against maternity benefits outside the Dáil. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Fri, Oct 25, 2013, 17:55

A small group of women and babies protested in pouring rain outside Leinster House today at the €32 cut to maternity benefit which will come into force from January 1st.

The cut to the higher rate of maternity benefit, from €262 to €230 per week, was introduced in the Budget and will affect 90 per cent of women claiming maternity. Organisers of the protest described the cut as “an attack on women, on children and on families”.

Catherine McGowan who was there with her one year-old daughter Sophie, said the cut went “against everything we are supposed to be doing for young children”.

She said it would force mothers back to work earlier than they would have wished meaning they spend less time with their infants in the critical early months.

“All the research shows that investment in early years saves money in the later years in terms of education, health. It’s about investing in a solid foundation for the future.”

She said she had just returned to work after a year’s leave, in the community sector.

“I was on six months maternity leave on full pay. I took unpaid leave and accrued time off. I was in a position because of the support of my employer, my family and friends to do that but it wiuld be more difficult to do that with this cut.”

Jacqueline Healy, health and human rights officer with the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said the cut went against the trend across Europe which is to encourage mothers, and in some States fathers too, to spend as long as possible with their babies before returning to work.

“This €32 cut is enormous and it’s unacceptable. It hits women in low incomes in particular but it affects women at all income levels,” said Ms Healy, who is , about to go on maternity leave. “ It amounts to over €120 a month and that is considerable at a time of reduced incomes, higher costs and with the costs of looking after a baby. There is no doubting that this is an attack on women, families and children. It will absolutely force women back to work early.”

The protest was supported by the NWCI, ROSA (Reproductive rights against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) and Choice Ireland.