Tuesday 25 June 2019

Melanie Finn: 'Instead of making piecemeal gestures, why not try giving politicians adequate maternity leave?'

 

Female TDs have to provide a sick cert to cover the period of absence to give birth. Stock Image
Female TDs have to provide a sick cert to cover the period of absence to give birth. Stock Image
Melanie Finn

Melanie Finn

Forgive me if I'm not jumping up and down with joy about the Ceann Comhairle's comments welcoming breastfeeding in the Dáil.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl made his remarks on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' where he said that nursing mothers should be allowed to feed their babies in the chamber.

It was only last year that the Oireachtas policy was changed to accommodate new mums, with a letter to Green Party TD Catherine Martin saying that the Ceann Comhairle had "no objection" to it.

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While this sends out a message of Ireland being a 'right-on' country and on an equal par with forward-thinking nations like Iceland and Australia, which also accommodate breastfeeding politicians, this approach is overly simplistic.

The Irish parliament is still woefully under-represented when it comes to women. Although we now have the highest number of female TDs ever, they still make up just 22pc of the Dáil and it's a notoriously difficult career when it comes to juggling family life with the high-pressure demands of politics.

Instead of making piecemeal gestures such as trying to normalise breastfeeding in the Houses of the Oireachtas, giving politicians maternity and paternity leave would be a far more substantial move.

Currently, female TDs have to provide a sick cert to cover the period of absence to give birth.

And it seems almost cruel making a nursing mum traipse into the Dáil with a new baby and having to endure one of the endless parliamentary sessions as they think about how long they have until the next feed.

Ireland currently has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding, with just 15pc of Irish mums doing it exclusively for the first six months, compared with the global average of 38pc.

The reasons for this are complicated and multifold with no 'quick-fix' solution evident. I still remember the astonishment I felt after being asked in a Dublin restaurant if I would be "more comfortable" nursing my baby in a private room.

It's such a shame that women still seem to need 'permission' to breastfeed.

Cultural attitudes are more to blame here and the traditional view of politics being male-dominated.

If things are to change, we need bigger gestures than this.

Irish Independent

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