Councillor Joanna Byrne.
Because Councillors are office holders not employees, they are not currently covered by existing statutory entitlements such as maternity leave.
This is about to change however following publication of an Independent Review of the Role and Remuneration of Elected Members (2020) by a working group which includes local Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne.
Cabinet has given the go ahead to the Minister of State with Responsibility for Local Government and Planning, Peter Burke, TD, to draft maternity leave legislation for Councillors so the Minister intends to amend the 1994 Maternity Protection Act to provide women Councillors with the same rights as employees.
Cllr Byrne said she was delighted to be a part of the cross-party working group and to see these proposals come to Cabinet. “I am honoured to have played my part in this” she said.
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“Female elected representatives, be they TDs, Senators or Councillors should receive similar maternity leave entitlements as other career paths and the establishment of this working group by the Minister to feed into these proposals was a very progressive step in my view. Today's cabinet decision is a monumental step in promoting fairness and equality for female councillors.
“The absence of this type of support to date is one of the main deterrents for women getting involved with public life and hopefully we have now opened a pathway for more women to enter these political positions and more importantly to stay in them should they decide to enter motherhood whilst in this role.
“The Minister of State’s acknowledgment that a one-size-fits-all scheme will not work is particularly welcomed as this was emphasised by all Councillors on the working group. Enabling women to select a substitute or to instead avail of administrative support is a sensible provision that gives female Councillors a choice when deciding how to manage their maternity leave.
“We need to see the Minister of State progress the legislation and associated regulations as a matter of urgency. This government is big into announcements, but the pace of progress can be glacial.
"If government is serious about retaining women in local politics Councillors currently serving their communities should not have to wait until the 2024 local elections to avail of this entitlement. Now is not the time for dragging heels.
“There were additional considerations discussed by the working group for special leave in the event of a miscarriage (mindful that this entitlement is not in place for employees) as well as paternity and parental leave for Councillors, childcare both in terms of provision and cost and family friendly working hours.
"It is not clear from the Ministers announcement today what if any progress he has made on these matters. These, along with the expedition of maternity leave proposals for Oireachtas members will be the next challenge, but the announcement today is without doubt a step in the right direction and news to be warmly welcomed.”