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Sunday 24 September 2023 Dublin: 17°C
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# Back at Cabinet
Helen McEntee returns as Justice Minister this week after six months maternity leave
McEntee gave birth to a boy in December and has been on maternity leave since November.

HELEN MCENTEE IS to return to her position as justice minister on Thursday. 

McEntee went on maternity leave in November 2022, with Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys taking over her role until the Cabinet reshuffle.

In December’s reshuffle, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris became the interim justice minister. 

McEntee gave birth to her second child in December. The minister and her husband, Paul, already have another son, Michael, who was born in April 2021.

On both occasions, McEntee became a Minister without Portfolio, and though bound by her constitutional responsibilities as a member of the government, she had no specific duties or responsibilities, and could not exercise any powers in relation to the Department of Justice.

McEntee took up six months paid maternity leave for the birth of her two sons. 

At the time, Government committed to finding a “long term solution on maternity, paternity and other types of leave for public representatives”.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin stated at the time that there is an “absolute requirement” to move away from ad hoc arrangements and for a “permanent reform in this area to ensure full equality for all public representatives and the need to introduce maternity and paternity leave for councillors, Senators, TDs, and Ministers”.

“We want to make sure that having a family is in no way in conflict with pursuing a career in public life. That will require legislative change, or possibly constitutional change,” he said

The issue was raised in the Seanad in 2018, with the then Minister of State for Equality David Stanton stating that the Government backed the principle of the legislation but there were a number of “fundamental issues”.

He said on the record that “Oireachtas Members as ‘office holders’ are automatically entitled to a salary as a matter of law (with limited exceptions) from the period they sign the roll until they are no longer a member of either House of the Oireachtas, regardless of attendance”. 

Under the current arrangement, there is also no provision for pairing arrangements to allow a TD take leave without it affecting a Dáil vote. 

Informal arrangements were made during McEntee’s maternity leave in the past.

A cross-party group of TDs and senators has been established to push for reform of the maternity rules, but Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman has flagged some practical implications in the proposed standalone bill to legislate for maternity leave.

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