Pregnancy and politics

 

A chara, – Congratulations to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on the announcement of her pregnancy.

While I expect that her health and wellbeing will be respected by the press and social media, her announcement should be a catalyst in the debate on supporting women in public office.

Already the general response to her news has noted that elected members to our Dáil, Seanad and council chambers do not have access to any maternity leave.

The use of “sick notes”, in lieu of properly defined maternity leave, demeans the notion of pregnancy, and for young women, weighing up the options of running for elected office, it gives no encouragement or support to parental plans they might have.

While Ms McEntee can involve Ministers of State in her workload, no one can use her Dáil vote if she is unavailable to attend the chamber.

For others too, in our Dáil or councils, juggling pregnancy, workload and birth remains a huge challenge, and so far in Ireland the right to vote on legislation and regulation is dependent totally on personal presence in our elected chambers. Other jurisdictions are addressing this challenge.

Extending the existing maternity leave scheme, in place for all other salaried workers, should be possible; developing a proxy vote system is perhaps more challenging. But with the goodwill of the Dáil’s procedures committee, the involvement of its women’s caucus and the support of the party leaders, Ireland could lead the way in establishing a proxy voting system within its maternity leave provisions for a generation of women politicians whose voices and experiences we need to hear. – Is mise,

NIAMH BHREATHNACH,

(Former minister

for education),

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I believe Maureen O’Carroll, a TD in the 1950s, campaigned with a great slogan on her election literature, “Women in Labour”. – Yours, etc,

KIERAN GALLAGHER,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.