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Maternity Leave

New scheme to allow councillor appoint temporary substitute while on maternity leave

Currently, female councillors are office-holders rather than employees and are not covered by the statutory framework for maternity leave.

CABINET HAS APPROVED the publication of new legislation that will allow councillors take maternity leave. 

The new scheme offers councillors the choice to appoint an individual as a temporary substitute in the place of a councillor who takes a period of maternity-related absence or is absent due to illness.

Currently, female councillors are office-holders rather than employees and as such, they are not covered by the statutory framework for employees on issues such as maternity leave.

By making a legislative provision for female councillors to access maternity leave under the Maternity Protection Act 1994, councillors will be entitled to the same rights as female employees, and those with relevant PRSI contributions.

Separately, if a councillor does not want to have a substitute, but would like more administrative support, the new regulations will mean councillors will be given funding for additional administrative assistance for the duration of their maternity leave.

This will mean they can pay someone on a weekly basis to assist with secretarial work.

Despite today’s new legislation to deal with maternity leave for councillors, there has still been no progress made by Government in terms of dealing with maternity leave for ministers, even as Justice Minister Helen McEntee is due to go on maternity leave in the coming days.

Sources state that such a measure will have to be dealt with by referendum next year.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government and Planning, Peter Burke said he was delighted with the progress of the Bill, which has already been through pre-legislative scrutiny with the Joint Oireachtas Committee and received broad cross-party support.

“While for years the system has called for maternity leave for councillors, because members of our local authorities are office-holders rather than employees, it took some time to work out the best approach to take. I set up a sub-group of female councillors last year, who all emphasised to me that every councillor’s situation will be different, so above all a choice would need to be offered if the scheme was going to be taken up,” said Burke. 

“As such, this legislation offers a choice. Once the legislation is enacted, councillors will have the choice to have an individual fill in for them while they are on leave,” he added. 

“This would apply for all votes, all meetings and all elements of the role. Previously, I was aware of situations where councillors felt pressure to turn up to important votes or debates, when they needed to be at home caring for a new baby. It is not credible maternity leave if you cannot fully switch off from your work,” said the minister.  

This new legislation will address a deficit “which simply should not exist in a 21st century workplace”, he said.  

The minister said Ireland’s rate of female participation in both local and national government is “shamefully low”.

“I believe this measure will remove another obstacle and allow us to make the role of a councillor more accessible to half of our population. I look forward to introducing this legislation in the Oireachtas in the coming weeks,” said Burke. 

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