Council reform on maternity leave to bring more women into politics

Councilors will have the right to take full maternity leave and temporarily co-opt someone else into their seat while they are away as part of local government reforms to be approved by ministers this week.

Members of local authorities are to be granted maternity leave for the first time, as part of efforts to encourage more women to enter politics, under proposals led by local government minister Peter Burke.

The reforms would also allow councilors to temporarily co-opt someone into their seat for reasons other than pregnancy, including if they are absent due to illness or in good faith for another reason.

This person would be paid approximately €17,500 for the replacement period, with local authorities expected to meet the costs. It would be at the sole discretion of the councilor who takes the leave to avail himself of the choice of cooptation.

Women councilors will also be entitled to claim compensation, estimated at approximately €200 per week, for secretarial support similar to that made available to female Oireachtas members who go on maternity leave, although details are yet to be announced. yet to be finalized with the Ministry of Public Service. Spending and reform.

At present, councilors are not, like members of the Dáil and Seanad, considered employees and are therefore not covered by a legal framework for matters such as maternity leave, sick leave and annual leave.

While counselors can and have taken maternity-related absences, these are not officially graded and any counselor who wishes to extend their leave beyond six months can only do so with a resolution from the local authority.

Last year, South Dublin Green Party councilor Clare O’Byrne resigned from her local authority seat shortly after giving birth and blamed the lack of maternity leave for councillors, saying that it was a serious obstacle for women in politics.

Mr Burke’s proposals would amend the Local Government Act 2001 to grant a right to maternity leave to elected members of local authorities, as office holders, equivalent to the current right given to employees under the Act of 1994 on maternity protection.

The Minister for Fine Gael set up a cross-party group to consider proposals to grant maternity leave to councilors last year. The group identified greater flexibility and work-related choices offered to women who give birth while in office as positive steps to encourage more women to enter politics.

Ireland has a low rate of female participation in local government. In the 2019 local elections, 226 women candidates, or 24% women, were elected to local authorities. While a record 562 women contested the elections – up from 440 in 2014 – they made up just 28% of all candidates.

Research has indicated that the lack of a right to maternity leave is an obstacle to women’s participation in local authorities, and the Government believes that this policy should be used to increase the number of women candidates for local elections.

While Mr Burke’s plans would address the problems faced by members of local authorities, there is still no legal provision allowing ministers, TDs and senators to take leave if they become pregnant.

The government made an ad hoc arrangement for Justice Minister Helen McEntee to go on six-month maternity leave last year and Taoiseach Micheál Martin suggested a referendum might be needed to give members of the Oireachtas a right to maternity leave.

Ministers will be briefed this week that Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman is continuing to review maternity support for Oireachtas members and intends to bring forward legislative proposals in due course.

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