A new scheme which provides maternity leave for County Councillors will be positive for all women wishing to pursue a career in politics.
For the first time in Ireland female public representatives in our Councils will now have be able to take maternity leave – this is ground-breaking for women.
Councillors usually are doing their roles and community work on top of a full-time job, now we have recognition for young women in balancing family-life, work-life and their public representative role. It removes another barrier for women who want to participate more in our society and have their voices heard. Our 2022 census shows 51% women make up our population, in Seanad Éireann we are at 40% female participation, Dáil Eireann is roughly 22% and women hold 25% of Councillor positions across all local authorities. Encouraging more women in the west to participate in local government on behalf of their communities means more effective and representative councils for all of us.
My colleague, Minister of State with responsibility for Local Government and Planning, Peter Burke TD, is introducing this scheme to provide maternity leave for councillors. It means that female councillors can appoint a temporary substitute for a maternity-related absence.
Currently, Councillors are not classified as employees, meaning they are not covered by the statutory framework on issues such as maternity leave.
This scheme provides access to maternity leave under the Maternity Protection Act 1994. Roscommon councillors will be entitled to the same rights as female employees, and those with the relevant PRSI contributions.
The proposal to allow for a temporary substitute will address situations where councillors feel pressure to turn up to important votes or debates or fulfil their community representative role, when they would really prefer or need to be at home caring for their new baby or recovering themselves.
Fine Gael is working to build stronger, safer communities. Our councillors make a hugely valuable contribution to local communities across Roscommon and Fine Gael in Government will continue to ensure they are supported.”
Commenting on the draft legislation, Minister Burke said: “After significant engagement with councillors across the country, with legal advisers and officials, I am delighted to secure Cabinet approval for my proposals to provide maternity leave for councillors.
The decision allows us to address a deficit which should not exist in a 21st century workplace, to provide full maternity leave for our councillors.
Our rate of female participation in both local and national government is shamefully low, and I believe this measure will remove another obstacle and allow us to make the role of a councillor more accessible to half of our population.
For far too long, female politicians have been denied a basic right of maternity leave as our political system displayed an inherent design bias.
We see many Oireachtas members starting off their political careers in local government so these measures will also have a positive effect on gender equality in our Dáil and Seanad Chambers.