Plan to provide maternity leave for councillors approved by Government
Westmeath Minister of State Peter Burke announced today (Tuesday) that the cabinet had approved legislation to provide maternity leave for local councillors.
The legislation provides a choice to members of local authorities to appoint an individual as a temporary substitute in the place a councillor who takes a period of maternity-related absence, or is absent due to illness.
There will also be an option for a councillor on maternity leave to avail of an administrative support allowance, to help with the running of her office.
Minister of State Burke said the level of female representation in politics was "shamefully low" and that this measure would "remove another obstacle and allow us to make the role of a councillor more accessible to half of our population."
At present, four of the twenty county councillors in Westmeath (20%) are women. Four of the eighteen councillors in Roscommon are women (22%), while, in Offaly, Cllr Clare Claffey is the only female in the 19-member local authority (a 5% rate of female representation).
Minister of State Burke said that across the political spectrum there had been support for the new measure, named the 'Local Government (Maternity Protection and Other Measures for members of Local Authorities) Bill 2022'.
"The Bill has already been through Pre-Legislative Scrutiny with the Joint Oireachtas Committee and received broad cross-party support.
"I thank my colleagues for their input and suggestions, much of which has been included in the Bill or will be introduced by policy within local authorities.
"While for years the system has called for maternity leave for Councillors, because members of our Local Authorities are office-holders rather than employees, it took some time to work out the best approach to take.
"I set up a sub-group of female councillors last year, who all emphasised to me that every councillor's situation will be different, so above all a choice would need to be offered if the scheme was going to be taken up.
"As such, this legislation offers a choice. Once the legislation is enacted, Councillors will have the choice to have an individual fill in for them while they are on leave. This would apply for all votes, all meetings and all elements of the role.
"Previously, I was aware of situations where councillors felt pressure to turn up to important votes or debates, when they needed to be at home caring for a new baby. It is not credible maternity leave if you cannot fully switch off from your work.
"Separately, to ensure a fully family focused package of supports, I am bringing forward robust regulations which will mean councillors will be able to avail of additional administrative assistance for the duration of their maternity leave. This will mean they can engage someone on a weekly basis to assist with secretarial work.
"This legislation allows us to address a deficit which simply should not exist in a 21st century workplace.
"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.
"I look forward to introducing this legislation in the Oireachtas in the coming weeks," he concluded.