”Long overdue - pardon the pun” is the reaction of Cork City Councillor Fiona Kerins, to the new proposals brought forward by the Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) regarding creating maternity leave for councillors.
As a local authority elected member is deemed a public office holder, men and women are not entitled to the normal maternity/paternity leave provisions from their local authority as would be afforded to employees.
The lack of proper maternity leave provision for councillors has long been identified by AILG as a major barrier for retaining current female councillors and attracting greater participation, especially by women, at local government level.
Speaking at the launch, AILG President Cllr Mary Hoade said: “The reality for women councillors of having no maternity leave provision is that if a female member takes extended maternity leave, as would be their right under normal maternity leave provisions, they run the risk of having automatically resigned their Council seat unless they secure a resolution from the local authority to 'allow them' to continue with their maternity leave. Surely in 2021 this is totally unacceptable.”
Cllr Hoade continued: “I’m delighted to announce our proposals to provide maternity leave for local authority elected members which we will seek to have implemented by the Minister immediately.
Speaking about the initiative, Sinn Féin Councillor Fiona Kerins, who welcomed her daughter 18 months ago at the start of the pandemic, said she welcomed the proposed provision.
“The current situation is you are basically marked as absent - this can have negative repercussions for the councillor. To your constituents, it may appear as if you simply weren’t turning up to meetings or voting on certain issues whereas there is a perfectly valid excuse but they may not have been aware of this. This won’t help anyone seeking re-election.
“I must also welcome the provisional paternity leave for councillors. We need a diverse range of elected representatives to ensure everyone in society is represented. Fathers with young families should be afforded ‘time out’ also and should be encouraged in retaining seats rather than stepping aside because of family commitments.”
Ms Kerins also said the new proposals would help younger people and more women joining the Dail.
“We need diversity in politics to reflect wider society. Councils and Dáil Éireann should not be largely made up of one particular age group of a certain sex.
“We need more young people and we need more females. These proposals go some way in addressing the bigger issue.”