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Sunday 22 September 2019

Female pilots told to choose between abortion and losing out on work, says union chief

Evan Cullen, president of IALPA (Irish Airline Pilots’ Association) Photo: Collins
Evan Cullen, president of IALPA (Irish Airline Pilots’ Association) Photo: Collins
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Female pilots employed by Irish-registered airlines are being told to choose between having an abortion or losing work if they become pregnant, the Irish Air Line Pilots' Association (IALPA) has claimed.

IALPA president Captain Evan Cullen told an Oireachtas committee that it was "a matter of fact" that female pilots working as self-employed contractors with airlines registered in Ireland have had abortions to avoid losing out on future work.

"That is an absolute. They have a choice, you either terminate your employment under this type of employment or you terminate your pregnancy.

"You can't have both. So that is absolutely what goes on," Capt Cullen told the Oireachtas Employment Affairs committee.

Asked at the committee if he knew of any specific cases of this having happened, Capt Cullen said: "Female pilots have told me that they've terminated pregnancies because they had no entitlement to maternity leave and therefore no guarantee of a job after they came back."

Capt Cullen said that "all Irish airlines" are involved in hiring contract pilots but he did not name any company.

He declined to expand on his remarks when contacted last night.

"I can only refer you to the transcript of the Oireachtas committee," he told the Irish Independent.

The claims were described as "horrifying" by Solidarity TD Paul Murphy.

Labour senator Ged Nash, a former junior employment minister, who had asked Capt Cullen about the matter during the Oireachtas hearing, described the revelation as a "very sinister situation" and said it shows the impact of so-called bogus self-employment on workers. "Workers who are considered by their employer to be independent contractors while displaying all the characteristics of an employee are left without any entitlement to social protection or trade union representation in order to have their rights protected and vindicated," Mr Nash said.

Asked to respond to Capt Cullen's remarks last night, Aer Lingus said the practices he described "are not in any way representative of the practices carried out within our airline". A spokesperson added: "When a female pilot becomes pregnant their medical clearance to fly is suspended under the requirements set out by the Irish Aviation Authority."

It comes days after the emergence of the Majella Moynihan case.

The former garda who became pregnant out of wedlock after joining the force in the 1980s claims she was shamed into giving up her baby son for adoption. Ms Moynihan, from Kanturk, Co Cork, was subjected to an internal Garda investigation and alleges she was threatened with dismissal.

She has already received an apology from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, and her case was described as "wrong on every level" by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar earlier this week.

It has been claimed that the then Garda commissioner, the late Larry Wren, succumbed to pressure from the Archbishop of Dublin not to dismiss Ms Moynihan as it would have led to other female gardaí going to the UK for abortions.

But Mr Wren's son-in-law Joe McConville yesterday denied that the former commissioner would have allowed the Catholic Church to dictate Garda policy.

"The allegation doesn't sit with his character," Mr McConville told RTÉ's 'Liveline'.

Irish Independent

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