Maternity leave: 'The State needs to do what it should have done bloody years ago'

ireland
Simon Harris said maternity and parental leave needs to be put in place for members of the Oireachtas.
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Vivienne Clarke

Maternity and parental leave must be put in place for members of the Oireachtas as a matter of priority, according to a Government Minister.

Simon Harris, the Minister for Higher Education, told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show that “the State needs to do what the State should have done bloody years ago.”

His comments come as the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, is set to become the first Cabinet minister to give birth while in office. The Minister has said she intends to take six months’ leave after her baby arrives in May.

At present, public office holders must claim sick leave when they take time off to have and look after their newborn baby.

Asked if Ms McEntee should have to resign from her ministerial position in order to take her leave, Mr Harris said he hoped that would not be the case.

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“God I certainly hope not, Helen McEntee is a superb minister — she's been so proactive in a short space [of] time already in her portfolio,” he said.

“Being honest I somewhat feel uncomfortable talking about Helen McEntee's maternity leave because I want Helen McEntee to be able to take the maternity leave that she wants and she needs to be able to do that, it has to be about her preferences.”

'Let's just get it done'

Mr Harris said steps should have been taken long ago to provide for maternity and parental leave for Oireachtas members.

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“[The State] needs to put in place proper maternity leave and parental leave, for members of the Oireachtas and whether that requires a Constitutional referendum, legislation, let's just get it done,” Mr Harris said.

“But I have no doubt that a solution can be found for Minister McEntee — that's not us doing anybody a favour, that's the very least we should do for a colleague who has every right to take maternity leave.”

On Sunday, a former justice minister said it is “extraordinary” that it appears a constitutional amendment is needed to ensure public representatives such as Ms McEntee are permitted to take maternity leave.

Nora Owen said she admired Ms McEntee for her decision to take six months’ leave as she was likely to face criticism from the public for doing so.

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