This morning, the National Women's Council of Ireland and a group of parents, mostly mothers, held a demonstration outside Leinster House in support of the call for an extension to maternity leave and pay. During the Covid-19 crisis, many women have called for a 12-week extension because the emergency has fundamentally impacted on and changed the nature of the important time that they have to spend with their new babies.
Rugadh leanaí i lár na géarchéime seo agus tá deacrachtaí ag roinnt teaghlaigh mar gheall ar Covid-19 agus mar gheall ar easpa tacaíochta ón Rialtas. Caithfidh an Rialtas saoire mháithreachais a leathnú chun faoiseamh a thabhairt do theaghlaigh atá faoi bhrú.
On 11 June, the National Women's Council handed in a petition signed by more than 28,000 people, supporting this demand. It gave that petition to the then Taoiseach, now Tánaiste, Deputy Leo Varadkar. At that time, Deputy Varadkar said that he would give full and meaningful consideration to the request for the extension. The programme for Government commits to extending paid parental leave for parents to allow them to spend more time with their baby during the first year and although the language is vague, it raises the expectation that the Government will now act.
Extending maternity leave and pay is the right thing to do, particularly in these times of public health emergency, during which women have given birth without their partner present, they have faced the first few months of motherhood without access to the usual important supports, and the disruption caused by the Covid-19 crisis has consumed time that should have been about the mother and her new baby. What usually characterises this important time has been replaced by immense levels of stress, as the Taoiseach knows. Covid-19 has had a real effect on these families and it has been my view for some time that maternity leave in this State is not fit for purpose. The scheme is unfair and outdated, but perhaps how we remedy that is a discussion for another day. For now, I ask the Taoiseach to confirm that his Government will do the right thing and that he will extend maternity leave and maternity pay for the 12 weeks requested.