Referendum ‘may be needed for TDs’ maternity leave’

Taoiseach: Not good ‘that we cannot facilitate’ a Minister going on such leave

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who is expecting her first child in May. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who is expecting her first child in May. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

A referendum may be required to properly provide for maternity leave for Ministers and TDs, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced she is expecting her first child in May, making her the first Cabinet Minister to be pregnant in office but there are no legal provisions to allow female TDs to take maternity leave.

TDs have to provide a sick note if they wish to take time off to be with their newborn children.

Mr Martin said “it doesn’t reflect well on a modern democracy that we cannot facilitate a woman going on maternity leave in ministerial office”.

He said there were issues of a constitutional nature involved. They would have to look at interim measures for Ms McEntee within the constitutional framework.

But they will “deliberate more broadly” and a solution may require a referendum or “it may not”, but it would be discussed with the Attorney General.

Asked if a substitute Minister would be needed for Ms McEntee, Mr Martin said “we haven’t that quite worked out yet”.

His comments come as Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman announced that he will introduce the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill early next year, requiring certain organisations to report on the pay differences between female and male employees, including any bonuses.

Mr O’Gorman said a strengthened Bill would be introduced following its lapse with the general election. The new version, which will include an amendment to ensure the legislation applies to all public bodies and Government departments, will apply initially to organisations employing 250 or more people but over time will extend to those with 50 or more employees.

‘Root causes’

“We need to gain an accurate understanding of the gender pay gap to help address the root causes of the gender pay disparity between men and women,” Mr O’Gorman said.

It has also emerged that more than 15,000 people have availed of a parent benefit since it was introduced in November 2019. The two-week social welfare payment is made to employees and self-employed who take parent’s leave from work and are covered by PRSI contributions.

The payment is being increased to five weeks and parents who have already availed of the benefit will qualify for the extra payment which is expected to apply to some 30,000 parents next year at a cost of €22 million.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys urged parents to apply for the leave, which can be taken up to a child’s second birthday.

“This scheme is not just good for mums and dads but improves the quality of life for all the family,” she said, adding that it also applies to parents adopting a new baby.

On maternity leave for politicians, Mr Martin said there were “issues there of a constitutional nature in terms of a member of the House”.

Interim measures

The Government was still examining the precise mechanisms to rectify the situation and would require some interim measures, not just for Ms McEntee.

“Helen herself would want us to do it generally as a basic, necessary modern reform of our parliamentary democracy and also to make life, the quality of life, better for all concerned,” the Taoiseach said. “So it’s not good enough and we need to change it.” Change should come in stages, he added.

“I mean we have to do whatever is required in Helen’s context within the framework of the Constitution.” But to “deliberate more broadly may require a Constitution referendum, it may not, and we’ll be in discussions with the Attorney General on that”.