Geoghegan-Quinn ‘shocked’ maternity leave still not in place for politicians

Former European commissioner gave birth while minister for state in the late 1970s

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn: The former TD was a minister of state in the department of industry when she had a baby boy in July 1979. Photograph: Alan Betson

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn: The former TD was a minister of state in the department of industry when she had a baby boy in July 1979. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Former European commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said it was “shocking” that measures like maternity leave hadn’t been put in place for politicians more than 40 years after she gave birth while she was a minister of state.

It comes as Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government was committed to facilitating maternity leave for Minister for Justice Helen McEntee who is expecting a baby in May.

Ms McEntee has said she intends to take time to spend with her first child but the details of how this will work have yet to be determined.

Special arrangements had to be made for Ms Geoghegan-Quinn to bring her baby to work with her when she had her second child while serving as a minister of state in the late 1970s.

She told The Irish Times it was “shocking” that supports like maternity leave had not been put in place since. “Here we are, so many years later, and nobody apparently during that time decided to look at it.

“Maybe it’s because there was no woman minister who had a baby” but “there were women in the Dáil who had babies”, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said.

The former TD was a minister of state in the department of industry when she had a baby boy in July 1979.

She told how the senior minister in the department, Des O’Malley, and the minister for finance at the time, George Colley, helped put in place arrangements that allowed her to bring her son with her to work.

This meant Ms Geoghegan-Quinn could breastfeed her child during the day and he was looked after by a friend while she was at meetings or had to attend the Dáil for debates or votes.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn suggested the most straightforward solution would be for Ms McEntee’s duties as Minister to be transferred to another sitting Cabinet Minister while she was on maternity leave. The issue “needs to be resolved now for her [Ms McEntee] but also for anybody who comes after her” .

She said if it was necessary to have a referendum to provide for maternity leave for future ministers, “that will have to be done”.

‘Catalyst for change’

The Taoiseach said Ms McEntee’s maternity leave would be facilitated “through a range of mechanisms” and he believes the situation “will become a catalyst for wider change”.

Speaking in an interview with Women for Election for International Women’s Day on Monday, he said it was likely there would need to be a legislative and constitutional change to facilitate members of parliament taking maternity leave more easily in the future.

Mr Martin said he would like to see 50 per cent of the Dáil and Seanad made up of women politicians by 2030 “if possible”.

“That’s what we should be aiming for,” he said.

Mr Martin also said social media was having a very destructive impact on politics and on decision-making. He said the abuse that occurred on such platforms could be “very oppressive and particularly on women”.

Mr Martin said such abuse was a deterrent to people continuing to participate in politics and could be damaging electorally in terms of false narratives put out as well as psychologically.

He said he believed the Government would have to “get tougher” with social media companies, whose forums were used to facilitate such abuse.

“We’ve engaged with them [social media companies]. They constantly say that they’re employing more and more sophisticated mechanisms to try to root out hate speech and root out this abuse much more quickly but that’s not really happening to the degree that it should be,” he said.