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Lack of maternity leave for politicians is ‘awful’ and ‘downright traumatic’ when things go wrong


Catherine Stocker's baby daughter Anna passed away in the weeks following her birth before Christmas. Photo: socialdemocrats.ie

Catherine Stocker's baby daughter Anna passed away in the weeks following her birth before Christmas. Photo: socialdemocrats.ie

Catherine Stocker's baby daughter Anna passed away in the weeks following her birth before Christmas. Photo: socialdemocrats.ie

CATHERINE Stocker's baby daughter Anna passed away in the weeks following her birth before Christmas.

Mothers in such heart-breaking circumstances can usually avail of time off work as they are entitled to maternity leave as they grieve.

This wasn't an option for Catherine as she is an elected politician and there is no proper maternity leave provision for TDs, Senators or Councillors.

And as little Anna clung to life - and her parents hoped she would pull through - Catherine had added worry of not having any official leave and what she would do if her child was brought home very sick.

She considered the likelihood that she would have to leave her job as a city councillor immediately.

The anomaly where women politicians have no entitlement to maternity leave has been highlighted by the news that Justice Minister Helen McEntee is expecting a baby.

Ms McEntee spoke today about how she does plan to take time off when she has the child but the arrangements for how this will work are yet to be determined.

She told RTÉ Radio that regardless of how her leave is provided for there needs to be "permanent changes" to allow women politicians to take maternity leave.

Ms McEntee said: "If we want more women and younger women to get into politics we need to show them that this is an option and it’s possible for them."

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Catherine Stocker later revealed her ordeal in an online post.

She said: "Women in ordinary jobs who experience a late term neonatal death or stillbirth are entitled to maternity leave to heal physically and grieve.

"I am not.

"The lack of maternity leave for women public representatives is awful in ordinary circumstances where all goes well and a healthy baby is delivered.

"It is downright traumatic when things go wrong.

"The minister is absolutely right to make this stand for herself and other women."

She later told Independent.ie how Anna was born four weeks early at the end of November.

An emergency c-section was carried out after Catherine noticed reduced movements from her child and went into hospital.

Anna had suffered a rare maternal foetal haemorrhage where her blood had leaked into her mother's and she was born severely anaemic.

She suffered from heart and lung problems in the days following her birth and sadly passed away before Christmas after a bleed in her brain.

There had been hope for Catherine and her husband Matthew in the weeks after their baby was born.

Anna had shown signs of improvement with Catherine saying that the day before she died they couple left the hospital believing the signs were good and "she may well make it through this".

It was during that time when they believed she might pull through that Catherine was also worrying about the lack of maternity leave for councillors.

She was told by - albeit sympathetic staff in Dublin City Council - that there was no mechanism to provide maternity leave.

Councillors that don't attend the various local authority meetings are simply marked as absent.

And unlike TDs and Senators they have no staff to handle correspondence from members of the public.

Catherine said: "Most people from all across the political spectrum go into public representation because they want to improve things.

"They want to help people and nobody wants it to look like they just didn’t bother to turn up."

She said she would have had to step down if Anna had lived because she would not have been able to maintain her council duties and care for a sick child.

Catherine added: "Obviously we weren’t lucky enough to even have that happen but it was a concern for me.

"Most parents coming home in that sort of situation might be thinking am I going to have to leave my job to mind my child."

She said maternity leave offers them space to make those decisions and put arrangements in place.

Catherine added: "For me it was basically if I end up bringing a sick baby home in this circumstance I would have to immediately step down."

She said she understands the issue is complex and providing maternity leave for politicians is not as easy as in other work places.

But she said: "there are ways of doing this", suggesting a system of substitutes or additional supports for politicians who give birth.

She suggested that the experience in other countries where maternity leave is available could be replicated.

She urged action on the issue to "come up with something better than what we have now."

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