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Justice Minister plans to take maternity leave after having her baby

There are no legal provisions for TDs to take parental leave.

File image of Helen McEntee.
File image of Helen McEntee.
Image: Niall Carson

JUSTICE MINISTER HELEN McEntee has said she will take leave from work after having her baby later this year.

Currently, Ireland does not have legal provisions for TDs to take maternity leave. 

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne, McEntee said she is working to figure out the details of setting up maternity leave for TDs and Senators.

“I am going to take maternity leave. I am going to take time off [for] my first child. I do want to take that time, but we do need to identify a mechanism in which that can happen,” the minister said. 

“It’s important that we set that example and the fact that there is no provision there in this day and age, really it’s simply not acceptable.” 

She said it is “not a very encouraging signal for women who want to get into politics” that no parental leave options are available.  

Speaking to reporters today, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he is “really, really glad” that McEntee has taken the decision to take maternity leave. He said she had 100% support from himself and the Taoiseach on the issue.

“We want more women in the politics,” he said, adding that the government wanted to demonstrate the fact that it is possible to be involved in politics and still have a family life.

He pointed out that TDs and ministers are not employees – and are more like the self-employed as they have no labour rights, no maternity or paternity rights, and can essentially be sacked at any time. 

The Constitution did not envisage the scenario of a minister having to take maternity leave, he said, saying that the government are looking at “a couple of options” of how it might work.

McEntee tested positive for Covid-19 last week and said today that she is doing “much better”. 

“I had a scan this week and everything seems to be fine,” she said. 

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After the minister announced her pregnancy in December, concerns were raised about the lack of leave for new parents in the Houses of the Oireachtas. 

Reports had indicated the government believes a constitutional change – only possible after a referendum – is required to allow deputies take time away from their duties. But many legal experts believe there is no constitutional impediment and more practical solutions can be found. 

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns previously offered to be a pair for McEntee, which would mean that Cairns would sit out of votes that the minister would miss while on leave.

McEntee said she aims to set out plans for future TDs, Senators and Cabinet ministers to take parental leave, but the plans are “not quite there yet”. 

“I’m working with them to make sure that obviously I’m able to take maternity leave, but that it’s not just about me,” she said. 

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