CABINET has approved a scheme which will grant maternity leave to elected members of local authorities across the country, in a move that have been hailed as “one step forward for equality” by a pregnant Cork city councillor.
The scheme offers the choice to appoint an individual as a temporary substitute in the place of a councillor who takes a period of maternity-related absence or is absent due to illness.
The substitute would have the ability to vote on behalf of the councillor, represent them at all meetings and in all other aspects of the role for the maternity leave period.
Separately, if a councillor does not want to have a substitute, but would like more administrative support, Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government Peter Burke has said he is bringing forward regulations which will mean councillors will be given funding for additional administrative assistance for the duration of their maternity leave.
This will mean they can pay someone on a weekly basis to assist with secretarial work.
Cork city councillor Fiona Kerins said she is “delighted” that the proposals have been approved by Cabinet.
At a full council meeting last year, the Sinn Féin councillor shared her experience of 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.
Ms Kerins was also given the opportunity to address a Seanad committee to give a first-hand account of her experience being denied maternity leave in her role as a councillor.
“Hopefully it might encourage women to consider a role in politics.”
Currently, female councillors are office-holders rather than employees and as such, they are not covered by the statutory framework for employees on issues such as maternity leave.
By making a legislative provision for female councillors to access maternity leave under the Maternity Protection Act 1994, councillors will be entitled to the same rights as female employees, and those with the relevant PRSI contributions.
Green Party Cork city councillor Colette Finn, who has also lobbied for maternity leave entitlements for councillors, said she hopes the new scheme will have “a positive knock-on effect”.
“In the Green Party, we place a strong emphasis on empowering women within our party.
“Half of our elected representatives are women, but there is so much more work that we can do for women in general in politics.
“This will have a positive knock-on effect for politics at large.
“An equal Ireland for every person can only be achieved when we have women’s voices at the highest offices in local and national government and beyond,” Ms Finn said.
The policy proposals were informed by an all-female working group established by Minister Burke last year.
The Minister welcomed the Cabinet’s approval of the measures which he said would “address a deficit which should not exist in a 21st-century workplace”.
Draft legislation is now being prepared and will be passed through the Oireachtas over the coming period.