A CORK city councillor has spoken about returning to council meetings when her daughter was just seven weeks old due to a lack of maternity leave for elected representatives which she cited as a serious barrier to achieving gender-balanced representation in politics.
Sinn Féin councillor Fiona Kerins shared her experience at Monday night’s full council meeting during a discussion on a motion submitted by Green Party councillor Colette Finn and Independent councillor Lorna Bogue stating that the chief executive of Cork City Council should enquire from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the progress being made on the implementation of a maternity leave scheme for councillors.
“It’s hard to believe that we’ve gotten to 2021 without a maternity leave scheme for female representatives in the Seanad, the Dáil and for councils but it’s not surprising either when you see the imbalance in gender across the political spectrum.
“I found myself in a position being back at council meetings when my daughter was seven weeks old.
“I was in a bizarre situation because while I was attending council meetings, I took a decision to create a bit of balance for myself that any outside committees or roles or clinics or when people called or asked me to call I would tell them that I’m actually on leave at the moment but it wasn’t maternity leave because I’m not entitled to maternity leave, I was just taking leave myself.
“It was a very awkward situation to be in.
On Monday, Green Party councillor for South County Dublin Council Clare O’Byrne resigned from her role stating she had come to realise “the impossibility” of balancing her role as a new mother with that of a councillor.
Speaking at the Cork City Council meeting, Fine Gael councillor Garret Kelleher said the lack of maternity leave for elected representatives is a “national embarrassment”.
“It’s true to say there were more women in Dáil Éireann in 1923 than there were in 1973, fifty years later.
“That’s a sad indictment of the fact that politics in Ireland has, from its inception, been male-dominated. That continues to be the case,” he continued.
Solidarity councillor Fiona Ryan said that while there seems to be unanimous support for a maternity leave scheme for elected representatives, nothing is happening.
“If you ask any member of Government right now should councillors have maternity leave, I doubt there’s a single one that would say no… and yet, despite universal agreement nothing is happening,” she said.
“This international women’s day I think I and all of us would like less claps on the back telling us what a good job we’ve done and more actual immediate reforms.”
The motion at Monday’s full council meeting was passed unanimously.