Ireland should look to the example set by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the debate around maternity leave for politicians, a Labour councillor has said.
Dublin representative Joanna Tuffy says she has a problem with how the debate around maternity leave for elected representatives has been framed in Ireland.
It comes after a Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns published a new bill yesterday, which would allow for councillors to take maternity leave.
It would also cover adoptive and paternity leave.
The bill coincides with Justice Minister Helen McEntee's return to work, after being the first serving Cabinet minister to take six months paid maternity leave.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Deputy Cairns said it's vital to decrease the barriers for women entering politics.
She said: “Women won the right to vote over a century ago - so the absence of a proper provision for maternity leave for politicians 103 years later is completely unacceptable. I think most people don’t realise that’s the case - I didn’t until I was a councillor.
“This bill will not only provide a technical means for councillors to access family leave, but will also contribute, I think, to a cultural shift.
"We need to normalise politicians taking maternity and parental leave.”
'You're not an employee'
However, Councillor Tuffy argued councillors can already take six months leave “for any good reason” - even if maternity leave is not specifically mentioned as a reason.
She said: “I don’t have a problem with legislation that clarifies it or makes the provisions more generous than they are currently.
“What Holly’s proposing will make it much more generous in terms of maternity leave than most other jobs.
“What I have a problem with is how the debate has been framed. Being an elected councillor or representative is not the same as other jobs. You’re not an employee - I think it’s wrong to frame it in that way."
She said in the most extreme example someone could be absent for almost the entire time of their elected term if they take consecutive terms of maternity leave.
Instead, Councillor Tuffy believes there should be more effort put into normalising elected representatives working while caring for their young children.
She said: “If you look at other jurisdictions such as the European Parliament, you have women in the Chamber breastfeeding and putting their hand up to vote or speak.
“You have Jacinda Ardern - she took six weeks’ leave when she had her baby, but she was still the prime minister, and consulted on decisions.
"The Cabinet papers were sent to her. Within a few weeks, she was up at the United Nations speaking with her baby.”
Ms Ardern took six weeks leave in 2018 after having her first child.
Deputy Cairns, meanwhile, said it's “completely inaccurate” to say the provisions of her bill would make the leave for councillors more generous than other jobs.
She observed: “It should be a given - if this legislation was passed, you’d have to give notice rather than seek permission. It’s 2021 - women need to be able to take maternity leave.
“If some of them want to work through the first six months of their child being born, that’s absolutely their prerogative. But saying you want to take the option away from other public representatives… that just isn’t acceptable.”