TDs need ‘sick cert’ to get time off to have their baby, Dáil hears

Minister suggests legislators could nominate substitute so they can take parental leave

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth said it was “quite insulting being asked for a sick cert, not acknowledging a basic human right of having a baby”. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth said it was “quite insulting being asked for a sick cert, not acknowledging a basic human right of having a baby”. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Pregnant members of the Oireachtas have to provide a “sick cert” to get time off to have their baby, the Dáil has heard.

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth said it was “quite insulting being asked for a sick cert, not acknowledging a basic human right of having a baby”.

Introducing a Bill to provide maternity leave of 18 weeks and up to eight weeks of “additional maternity leave”, the Cavan-Monaghan TD said it was a “very precious and momentous time” to have a baby.

She knew the human resources department did not mean to be insulting “but it’s one of those factual things that we don’t have recognition of it”.

The Bill was about recognition of women in politics. “It’s not about getting time off. You will be in your constituency to be close to your family and to be close to your new baby and you can still do a certain amount of work.”

Ms Smyth, who has had a baby since becoming a TD in 2016, said that “in my case I was off for two weeks and then back at work here and in my constituency”.

She believed TDs could “still be taking the call and I don’t think the public would be angry or annoyed.”

“Women are 51 per cent of the population,” she said and it would be a fantastic signal that women did not have to wait until “their autumn years” to become politicians.

But she said “we need the men to believe in this and to buy into it and that’s what will make it happen”.

Co-sponsor of the Maternity Protection (Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas) Bill Anne Rabbitte said the legislation was the “start of a conversation”.

The Galway East TD said “we set the law for everyone else but discriminate against the women in this House”.

Ms Rabbitte asked that the Oireachtas justice committee would scrutinise the legislation.

‘Fundamental issues’

Minister of State for Equality David Stanton agreed there was a “palpable need to make our parliament more family friendly” and the increased participation of women in the Oireachtas had been very positive development.

The Government backed the principle of the legislation but there were a number of “fundamental issues”.

He said legal advice would be sought about whether the Dáil could legislate for TDs “to be absent from duty”.

TDs and Senators were “office holders” and automatically entitled to a salary, with limited exceptions, “from the period they sign the roll until they are no longer a member of either House”.

He pointed out that the Bill made no provision for pairing arrangements to allow a TD take leave without it affecting a Dáil vote.

Mr Stanton suggested one possibility was for a TD to provide a substitute during their absence, although there could be constitutional implications.

If it could be done it might then be possible to allow the alternate to replace a member when vacancies arose through resignation or death. “This could mean an end to byelections – a really radical step.”

The Minister pointed out that byelections cost the exchequer about €400,000.