‘Renewed urgency’ required regarding maternity leave plan for TDs and Senators, says Minister

Hope expressed that legislation for councillors can provide basis for Oireachtas provisions

Plans to provide for maternity leave for TDs and Senators need “renewed urgency”, Minister of State Peter Burke has said.

His remarks come in the wake of Cabinet approval to draft legislation to support for councillors in taking maternity leave.

Under the plans, a temporary substitute can be put in place by a councillor taking their full 26-week maternity leave to attend council meetings and vote on their behalf.

The councillor would continue to be paid their representational allowance and the substitute would be paid around €17,000 over six months.

This arrangement can be extended for a further 14 weeks of unpaid maternity leave time.

Alternatively, councillors can choose to continue to attend meetings but can avail of a special administration payment of €234 per week to pay someone to assist with secretarial work.

Mr Burke expressed a hope that the law bringing in the new system can be enacted before Christmas and he said it will assist in encouraging more women to enter politics.

Just 24 per cent of local authority representatives are women, below the European Union Average of around 30 per cent.

He said there should also be “renewed urgency” to drawing up plans to provide maternity leave for Oireachtas members and added: “anything I can do to push it in my position I absolutely will”.

That work is being carried out by Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman’s department.

The issue came to the fore recent weeks after Minister for Justice Helen McEntee announced she is expecting her second child this December.

Last year, on the birth of her son Michael, the Fine Gael TD became the first ever cabinet minister to take maternity leave.

The leave, which lasted for six months, was only possible due to a Dáil voting arrangement known as pairing which was agreed with Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns.

During Ms McEntee’s absence, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys took over the justice portfolio.

Mr Burke said a substitute arrangement like the one planned for local authorities could potentially work in the Oireachtas but remote voting is also under consideration.

Any such measure would require a referendum to change the constitution and Mr Burke could not offer a timescale for when proper maternity leave for Oireachtas members could be introduced.

He said: “Hopefully that this proposal [for local authorities] I got approval for will fast track those in the Oireachtas as well because it is not rocket science.

“This is trying to facilitate a normal procedure for a normal function of life.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times