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Taoiseach says government is committed to facilitating McEntee's maternity leave and not have her resign

A Green Party councillor said today the lack of maternity leave is a “serious obstacle” for female politicians.

Image: Sasko Lazarov

Updated Mar 8th 2021, 3:42 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said the government is committed to facilitating Justice Minister Helen McEntee taking maternity leave “and to not have to resign”.

Speaking at a Women for Election event marking International Women’s Day, the Taoiseach said he believes that facilitating the minister taking maternity leave “will be a catalyst for wider change and reforms”.

McEntee will become the first Cabinet minister to give birth while in office. The baby is due in May and McEntee intends on taking six months’ leave.

At present, public office holders have to claim sick leave when they take time off to have and look after their newborn baby.

Martin said he is committed to finding a range of mechanisms, both through a legal and constitutional framework to ensure it is “more easier” to for TDs, senators as well as ministers take maternity leave.

He also said he thought the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality might have a role to play in making recommendations on the matter to government.

Concerns have been raised about the constitutional issues surrounding McEntee’s maternity leave. Martin said the constitutional issues are something government “cannot ignore”.

He acknowledged that “we should not be in this position”, adding that reform of the political system as a whole, along with constitutional changes, will create a new system through reform.

His comments come as a Green Party councillor has resigned from her role and criticised the lack of maternity leave for elected representatives.
Clare O’Byrne, a councillor on South Dublin County Council, has resigned from her role after the birth of her first child.

“With the arrival of my firstborn, I have come to realise the impossibility of balancing my role as a new mother with that of a councillor,” O’Byrne said in a statement.

“The unavailability of maternity leave for elected representatives is a serious obstacle that prevents women from running for and remaining in office.

“Things need to change, not only for my daughter or the next generation of women in politics, but this generation.”

O’Byrne has been a councillor since February 2020.

Minister of State for Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, said engagement is needed to figure out the changes required for women in politics.

“We can and must do better; we need to engage in a participative process with women in politics to establish what changes are needed in terms of childcare, hours of meetings and moving the role of the elected member more towards strategic bigger-picture policymaking and away from the current clientelist system,” Noonan said in a statement.

Yesterday, it was reported that the former Justice Minister Nora Owen said she does not believe the public would be “thankful” if a new minister were to be appointed to replace McEntee when she has her baby.

The former Fine Gael politician said McEntee will face criticism from the public for taking leave, despite being entitled to take time to take care of her child.

She added that McEntee’s upcoming absence would be “giving somebody, somewhere, a lot of headaches”.

In addition to stating that the government are working out a way in which McEntee can take maternity leave, the Taoiseach also spoke about how to get more women into politics.

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He said having a quota at national level for women to be on the ticket was effective, adding that he was “not against them [quotas] at local level”, however, he said he believed quotas have a bigger impact on a national level.

Social media is having a destructive impact on politics, said the Taoiseach, who added that female politicians see online abuse and trolling as a significant deterrent to pursuing or continuing a career in politics.

Additional reporting by Christina Finn

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