Sunday 18 August 2019

'There isn't a huge amount of support for mothers involved in politics' - Dáil hopeful quits over lack of maternity leave

Councillor says politics fails to assist mothers

Expecting second child: Deirdre Kingston at Dún Laoghaire harbour yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Expecting second child: Deirdre Kingston at Dún Laoghaire harbour yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

A Labour rising star has quit her bid for the Dáil, blaming the lack of maternity leave and parental supports for female politicians.

Blackrock councillor Deirdre Kingston was the party's general election candidate in Dún Laoghaire, but she told party leader Brendan Howlin in recent weeks that she no longer wants to run for the Dáil in a constituency where Labour is hoping to win a seat.

Ms Kingston, who works as a communications officer for a charity, is expecting her second child in the new year. She decided that without any maternity leave or parental supports for politicians at a local or national level, it would be impractical to continue her Dáil bid.

"It was a purely personal decision. I've an 18-month-old and found out before the local election that I was expecting another baby and had to reassess everything and be realistic about how much time I had," she said.

"There isn't a huge amount of support for mothers involved in politics."

Ms Kingston, who won just 642 first preference votes but was re-elected to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county council in May's local elections, said she would still be doing local authority work while on maternity leave from her job next year.

"I was always basing it on the fact that there would be a general election early 2020 and I am due in January, so the reality is there is no maternity leave for TDs. If I was successful I'd be going straight back to work and sacrificing my maternity leave," she said.

"I think maternity leave is the absolute minimum that women in politics should be afforded. I think it would show it to be more of a supportive environment for women."

A private members' bill to allow female TDs to take maternity leave was introduced by Fianna Fáil deputy Niamh Smyth last year, but it has yet to become law. TDs and senators were recently given the green-light to breastfeed in the Dáil and Seanad chamber.

But Ms Kingston believes more formal supports should be put in place to ensure politicians don't lose their vote if they are absent on maternity leave, including a proxy vote or formal pairing arrangements.

She said Labour had been supportive of the decision and understood her reasons, but she called for wider supports to be afforded to the growing number of women entering Irish politics.

A Labour spokesperson said the party regretted Ms Kingston's decision, but added: "We fully understand her reasons for withdrawing her candidacy and we know it was a difficult decision for her to reach.

"It shows how difficult it still is for women to run for political office, and that more supports are needed to address this, especially the strains that elections put on new mothers and young families.

"As our spokesperson on equality, we are proud of the superb work Deirdre has done on the gender pay gap, domestic violence accommodation, and supports for women in politics, to name just three. The selection process for a replacement candidate will open in the autumn."

Irish Independent

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