Dáil debates constitutionality of proposed maternity leave Bill
Labour says it is `old-fashioned’ and misses the point about a TD’s role
Labour Party TD Joanna Tuffy said the proposed Opposition Bill to provide maternity leave for TDs and Senators missed the point about the role of a TD in a democracy. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
The Government has questioned the constitutionality of an Opposition Bill to provide maternity leave for TDs and Senators.
Minister of State Paul Kehoe called on Fianna Fáil not to push a vote on the Maternity Protection (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill because it would be rejected. They should instead work to see what progress could be made without legislation, he said.
A Government backbencher, however, criticised the Bill for taking “the old-fashioned view” that only women TDs were responsible for childcare.
Labour Party TD Joanna Tuffy said the Bill missed the point about the role of a TD in a democracy. “It is not a job or a career. A TD is in the Dáil to represent constituents and raise their issues. That is the constitutional position and what Fianna Fáil is proposing would almost certainly be unconstitutional.”
The legislation aims to “take a small step towards ameliorating the sacrifices imposed by a political life” and to make the political system more family and gender friendly, said Dara Calleary (FF, Mayo).
Introducing the Bill on behalf of the party’s spokesman on constitutional reform Seán Ó Fearghaíl, he said facilitating maternity leave would ensure “women are not penalised by a work regime that reflects an archaic male-centred set of work practices”.
Politicians had to change how they did business and deal with the “pressing need to throw open the doors of Leinster House to all citizens, regardless of gender”, he said. Ireland had “one of the worst gender balances in the free world in its parliament”, with only 91 women TDs elected since the foundation of the State. Childcare responsibilities continued to pose a problem for women with young children once elected to the Oireachtas, he said.
Mr Kehoe said TDs and Senators were not employees but officeholders and did not fall within statutory employment protection legislation. Proposing maternity leave as if female members of the Houses were employees might create constitutional problems because it would require “State recognition of an absence from her duties under the Constitution” of a TD or Senator. Members were entitled to salary for the duration of their membership “and there is no provision for non-payment of salary during this period”.
The Bill did not propose a temporary replacement which would have raised further constitutional issues, Mr Kehoe said, adding he not believe a mother “would like a substitute coming in to take her place because we are all very protective of our seats within the House”.
He said the Bill had “very generous” maternity leave terms, “far ahead of those available to most young mothers”.
Ms Tuffy asked if Fianna Fáil would have introduced the Bill had they “first put themselves in the shoes of women TDs and thought about the practical implications of what they were proposing”.
Fianna Fáil did not press a division of the House of the Bill.