Cork TD hopes bill to extend maternity leave to councillors will create a 'cultural shift' in Irish politics 

Councillors in Cork have decribed the proposed changes as 'long overdue'. 
Cork TD hopes bill to extend maternity leave to councillors will create a 'cultural shift' in Irish politics 

Pictured addressing media on the plinth outside Leinster House, is Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, who recently launched her new Bill to extend maternity leave, adoptive leave and paternity leave to councillors on local authorities. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie

CORK TD Holly Cairns has launched a bill that she hopes will create a ‘cultural shift’ in Irish politics.

The Social Democrats TD for Cork South West recently launched a bill that would extend maternity, adoptive and paternity leave for local councillors nationwide. 

Deputy Cairns said councillors currently have no entitlement to these forms of leave. 

“The Local Government Act 2001, which my bill amends, is a product of its time when little consideration was given to women in politics or that male councillors would take paternity leave. My bill aims to allow councillors to take maternity, adoptive and paternal leave,” she said.

“This is not just about a technical change, it is about good governance and the need for a cultural shift in Irish politics. We need to normalise politicians taking maternity and parental leave. I will be working with all political parties and groupings to help this legislation move through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible,” she said.

Deputy Cairns hopes these measures will encourage more women to get involved in local and national politics.

“Women make up less than a quarter of the TDs in the Dáil and less than a quarter of the councillors on local authorities across the country. If we want to increase the number of women in politics then we need to identify the barriers to female participation and work to remove them. The lack of any maternity or paternity provisions for public representatives is one very obvious barrier. It denies the country of strong female political candidates, many of whom feel unable to progress a career in politics because of structural barriers that are in their way.

“Without a more family-friendly environment we are excluding young people, especially young women from becoming or succeeding as councillors,” she added.

Breaking down barriers 

Cork County Councillor Deirdre Kelly echoed Ms Cairns sentiments with regards to breaking down barriers to entice more females into politics. 

“It is now high time that definitive policy was put in place for parents in all sectors of society, including public representatives. Currently, if a councillor is absent for a period of six months it is determined that their seat has been resigned and vacated. This does nothing to entice women to enter into public life.

“The lack of proper provision surrounding maternity leave is certainly a barrier for any female considering a career in public life. Women should be encouraged to engage in public life and not have prohibitive obstacles placed in their way,” she added.

A long-overdue change 

Sinn Féin County Councillor Danielle Twomey said the proposed change to the Local Government Act is well overdue. 

“Every party claims to want stronger female representation and it’s extremely important for them to recognise the anomaly contained within the Local Government Act. It’s something that should have been implemented a long time ago. Maternity leave and paternity leave should be an automatic entitlement to all parents regardless of their position.” 

Ms Twomey said that the lack of maternity leave for politicians is a ‘clear barrier’ for women entering into politics. 

“The lack of maternity leave for politicians is a clear barrier for women entering into politics. Childcare still remains a huge issue for young women in local government. The cost of childcare for every family is a problem but with a local representative, it’s even more of an issue. Our work does not follow a 9-5 schedule. Without the support of my family, I couldn’t do this job.”

Cllr Twomey said more work behind the scenes needs to be done to attract more women into politics. 

“We as women have so much to offer. We need to be at the decision-making table."

She added: “The promotion of women in politics in youth groups is also something I think we should look at. I would like to see more emphasis on the importance of politics in secondary schools with the introduction of student councils at secondary level.”

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