A BILL to give TDs maternity leave has been rejected by the Dail.
Instead, the Government is set to give automatic pairs – when TDs are allowed stay away for a vote – for mothers and fathers instead of maternity leave.
The Coalition rejected a Fianna Fail bill to give maternity leave to TDs but said it wanted to allow male and female deputies time off around childbirth by using other rules.
Government chief whip Paul Kehoe said giving automatic pairs – when a TD from both government and opposition are stood down to maintain the same Dail voting advantage – will be looked at.
Mr Kehoe said the Government could not accept the maternity leave legislation on technical and constitutional grounds, but that the rules of the Dail could be amended to make them more family friendly.
He asked Fianna Fail and other opposition parties not to push the bill to a vote, but said all sides could work together to improve working conditions without running into constitutional problems.
TDs are not covered by workplace legislation and do not qualify for welfare maternity schemes.
"We as members of the Oireachtas are not employees but 'officeholders'," Mr Kehoe said.
"We do not fall within the statutory employment protection legislation, because we are not employees."
Maternity leave could raise constitutional issues because it would "make provision for state recognition of an absence from her duties under the constitution of a member of either house during the maternity leave period, and for state remuneration during that absence", he said.
Fianna Fail's Dara Calleary said the bill, tabled by party whip Sean O Fearghail, "is a simple measure to address an historic Oireachtas oversight but it touches upon a far more profound and important issue of widening participation in the political process".
Mr Calleary said the business of the Dail needed to be organised "in an open, accessible manner for both men and women". But Mr Kehoe said the idea of giving pairs had been previously flagged by the Oireachtas Justice Committee.
"The committee's recommendation was that women members of the Oireachtas who give birth in office should be entitled to automatic pairing arrangements," Mr Kehoe said.
"I personally believe such an arrangement should also be in place for a short number of days for fathers on the birth of a child. This would reflect the important role fathers have to play in family life and reflect an advancement of equality of roles within the caring duties carried out by parents."
Labour TD Joanna Tuffy also said: "Either you're representing your constituents or you're not. You can't take leave from your role."
Ms Tuffy and Mr Kehoe also said it was impractical for a TD to leave constituency work for months, and expect to maintain support among voters.