Holly Cairns could ‘potentially’ pause maternity leave during general election

Social Democrats leader announces pregnancy after suffering miscarriages, as plans made for Cian O’Callaghan to step in during leave period

Social Democrats party leader Holly Cairns pictured at the party's national conference last February. Photograph: Alan Betson

Deputy leader of the Social Democrats Cian O’Callaghan will step in to lead the party when Holly Cairns is on maternity leave, the leader said after announcing her pregnancy.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Sunday with Miriam show, Ms Cairns said she is also considering “potentially pausing maternity leave” if the general election happens at an unexpected time.

The Cork South West TD announced, in an Instagram post on Saturday, that she and her partner Barry Looney are expecting a baby girl.

She said that the news had “been getting harder and harder to keep under wraps (quite literally)”.


“I am overjoyed to let you know that my partner and I are expecting a baby. We are so happy and feel so lucky because this is something we have wanted for a long time,” she wrote.

Ms Cairns (34) said while she was delighted to share the news, she was initially hesitant, “because like so many other couples hoping to start a family, ours has not been a straightforward journey”.

“But all the signs look good this pregnancy, so we are really hopeful. I’m definitely not the first woman to juggle work and a baby, but I also know that I have a unique job as a leader of a political party.

“That’s why more than ever, I feel very grateful to belong to a party who are so supportive of parents and passionate about making sure we get #MoreMna into politics.”

She added that she felt “very lucky” have a “great team” around her.

“This along with the amazing results from last weekend, makes me more excited than ever to lead the Social Democrats into the next elections.”

The couple had been “trying for some time”, and Ms Cairns went through two miscarriages last year, she said.

On Sunday, Ms Cairns said: “In my naivety, we were trying to plan around the baby being a year or so old during a general election. We learned the hard way that it’s not always that easy to plan”.

Miscarriages and difficulty conceiving were things that “happen to quite a lot of people and we just don’t hear about it,” the politician told Miriam O’Callaghan.

“Hearing other women speak about it, I’ve found comforting and less alone. So I do think it’s important we talk more about that. It’s not easy,” she said.

Ms Cairns said she felt “a new lease of life to be out of that danger zone” of the first trimester. She said she was now 17 weeks pregnant with a baby girl.

“Normally you tell people after the three month scan but our focus was really on the election,” she said. She added that she had “never been more committed to leading the party”.

Ms Cairns is the youngest party leader in the Dáil. The native of west Cork worked in disability services abroad before moving back to Cork to take on her family farm and business.

She stood in the 2019 local elections in Cork and won a seat on Cork County Council. The following year she was elected as a TD. Ms Cairns took over the leadership of the Social Democrats in March of last year.

During her time in the Dáil, Ms Cairns has acted as party spokesperson for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Further and Higher Education and Disability.

Her partner Barry Looney is a hotelier from west Cork. His family owns the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen.

The Social Democrats almost doubled their local authority representation last weekend, going from 19 to 35 seats in the local elections.

The party failed to have an MEP elected in the European elections. However, Ms Cairns said that she “could not be prouder of the exceptional campaigns” run by Rory Hearne, Susan Doyle and Sinead Gibney in Midlands North West, Ireland South and Dublin respectively.

Constituencies are “huge” and other parties had “a really big advantage” by running incumbent TDs and well known names, she said on Sunday

“It’s difficult for [our candidates] to break through in that context,” she said.

She again ruled out a merger with Labour, after receiving some of the party’s votes through transfers.

“I’m running out of ways to say no to this question. We’re focused on growing our party. We doubled our seats, the Labour Party went down,” she said, adding: “It’s not something we want or consider.”

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times