TD slams government's 'double standards' as councillors risk losing seat due to maternity leave
Women feel pressured to not be seen as having children interfere with their work, Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell has said.
Her comments follow a young Cork county councillor highlighting that if she took more than six months off work to look after her newborn baby, she would be barred from serving on the local authority.
Ms O’Connell served on Dublin City Council while she was pregnant and said she was "defiant to try and miss as little meetings as possible" to prove a point.
She has criticised the government for having double standards by calling for more women in politics, but not having legislation in place to provide them with maternity leave.
"It is absolutely contradictory," the outspoken TD told Independent.ie.
"We can’t have anything in place that dissuades a major part of society - women of childbearing age - from making a valuable contribution.
"When I was on the council I tried to miss as little meetings as possible. Is that a good thing? Probably not, but that’s the kind of pressure I put myself under as there is so much confusion out there when it comes to women, pregnancy and politics."
Sinn Féin councillor Danielle Twomey (31) returned to work just four weeks after she gave birth to her third child.
As Cllr Twomey is an elected representative, she is not technically an employee of the council and therefore not entitled to maternity leave from the local authority.
She is now calling for legislation to be changed so that women do not risk losing their seat if they fall pregnant.
"Every party says they want more young people and want more women, but it’s like saying yeah we want you, but we don’t want you to have children," she told Independent.ie.
"Legislation requires a party to have a gender balance, which is why it is so important we level the playing field.
"I cut short the time I spent breastfeeding my daughter and it could be argued that going back to work so quickly after giving birth could increase your chances of postnatal depression. There needs to be more protection in place for women."
The Local Government Act, 2001 states a "person shall be deemed to have resigned from membership of a local authority where the person is absent from attendance at any meeting of the authority for a continuous period of 6 consecutive months" - with illness and good faith being listed as the only exceptions.
The Sinn Féin councillor has called on the county council to write to Local Government Minister Eoghan Murphy demanding a legal review be conducted.
Niamh Gallagher, co-founder of Women for Election, echoed the views of Cllr Twomey and Kate O'Connell TD.
"Structures that penalise women for childbearing are fundamentally at odds with Government's stated position of wanting to encourage more women to enter politics and the law as it applies to maternity leave. The experience of Councillor Danielle Twomey has, once again, drawn attention to the unfairness of the system as it applies to new mothers.
"The Government should act at once to address this and ensure that all women considering contesting the 2019 elections will not be put off by this outdated and discriminatory barrier."
A maternity bill proposed by Fianna Fáil in 2013 failed to get passed in the Dáil and Cllr Twomey is calling for Minister Murphy to revisit it, with a view to introducing the "necessary" legislation.