Over 29,000 people have signed a petition calling for maternity leave to be extended for three months due to COVID-19.
The Extend Maternity campaign is warning that the effect of the outbreak on the country’s childcare system has left many new parents unable to return to work.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said new parents were not able to access vital supports during lockdown.
“Having a baby at any time is challenging,” she said. “It is fantastic but it is hard and it is challenging.
“I think particularly during COVID what many mothers found was that they didn’t have family supports around for them – there was no grandparents to help out or give advice.
“A lot of the health supports were not there so many infants and babies have not had the right vaccinations and the check-ups they would normally have.
“Then, there has not also been the mental health supports that would normally be available for them and they have found it very, very difficult.”
She said parents who are now coming to the end of their leave are finding it very hard to find childcare.
“In Ireland childcare can be very hard to find anyway, particularly for babies, and now, because of COVID, we have issues with our providers and our crèches and the capacity is reduced so it is becoming even more difficult to find childcare.”
Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the government would "do the right thing" for mothers on maternity leave – but warned that the issue was complicated because some mothers will have already returned to work or taken up the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
Deputy Whitmore said once-off legislation was needed to help people get back on their feet.
“Maternity leave in this country is very poor anyway and it is in the Programme for government that we would look to expand it and extend it because we rank really lowly compared to other EU countries,” she said.
“So, what we are asking for is not beyond the realm of what we should be providing as standard in Ireland.”
She said that, if money can be found to support businesses and tourism, it must be found for the “fundamental public services that have really been shown up over COVID.”
“We have not been investing in them properly,” she said. “Things like our childcare; things like our schools.
“It is obvious that all those services are creaking because we have not been investing in them and it is time that we begin to invest in them because these are services that we all use at some stage.
“We will all benefit from them and they will make us a stronger country.”
You can listen back to the full interview here: