Government Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee has entered into a pairing arrangement for the next six months with Independent Senator Eileen Flynn who gave birth to a baby girl last month and is on maternity leave.
Ms Clifford-Lee, a Fianna Fáil Senator, has agreed not to participate in Seanad votes for the duration of Ms Flynn’s maternity leave, keeping the same ratio of voting Senators between Government and Opposition.
It is the second such pairing agreement and follows that between Helen McEntee, who returns shortly to her role as Minister for Justice, and Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns.
Ms Flynn, the first female Traveller to serve in the Oireachtas, gave birth to her second child, Lacey May Whyte, on September 16th.
Offering her congratulations to Ms Flynn and her family, Ms Clifford-Lee on Tuesday told the Seanad it was important to “demonstrate in a visible way that women here in the Seanad and in the Dáil can actually take maternity leave and [that] the culture in the Houses of the Oireachtas is changing”.
Ms Clifford-Lee commended Ms McEntee, the first Cabinet member in the State’s history to give birth while in office, “on the leadership she showed” when she said she would take six months’ maternity leave.
“That was a powerful message and that type of leadership changes culture,” she said.
Ms Clifford-Lee said that four and a half years ago when she gave birth to her son, “such arrangements were not in place, it was not spoken about and you were almost afraid to ask about it”.
The north Co Dublin-based Senator also highlighted the lack of maternity leave for local authority members and the negative impact that had on encouraging women into politics.
She said councillors “have absolutely no arrangements, formal or otherwise, and that is a very big barrier”.
She added that “the vast majority of women who make it into the Dáil and the Seanad came through their local authority. If women are not being elected to and staying on local authorities and getting their experience, we will not see female ministers, we will not see a woman in the taoiseach’s office.”
Ms Clifford-Lee called on the Government to implement the recommendations in the report Pathways to Maternity Leave by Cllr Mary Hoade, former president of the Association of Irish Local Government, and “support adequate maternity arrangements for female local authority members, because without it our democracy is being impacted”.
Seanad leader Regina Doherty said "we should have proper arrangements in order that women and men can take maternity and paternity leave. It is long past time for moaning and nagging about it."
The Fine Gael Senator added that “it should be taken for granted that a woman when she has a baby can spend time at home with the baby and a man when his wife or partner has a baby can stay at home and bond that family relationship”.