I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am sharing time with my seconder, Senator Sherlock. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English, to the House and thank him for coming to debate the Bill. I also thank colleagues on all sides of the House who have expressed such strong support for this important Bill. I really appreciate it, and I speak on behalf of Senator Sherlock and all the Labour Party Senators when I say how much we welcome that cross-party support. I understand the Government has indicated it will not oppose the passage of the Bill on Second Stage. We are very appreciative of that and many people watching the debate, who may have been affected by the issues we are going to discuss, will really appreciate it too. We look forward to working with the Minister of State and his colleagues in government to make the Bill a reality and bring its provisions into law. I welcome, in particular, my colleague Senator Norris, who has long been a champion of women's reproductive health. I thank him, along with all the other Senators who intend to speak to the Bill.
In 2019, long before Covid had arisen, I was approached by my Labour Party colleague Councillor Alison Gilliland, who is also an official of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO. She approached me because several members of the INTO had expressed concern about having to take time off work to undergo in vitro fertilisation, IVF, treatment or other reproductive treatments, or to take time off work having suffered an early miscarriage, and had not been able to acknowledge that nor had any formal recognition of that in the workplace. A survey the INTO carried out in 2019 found that 60% of respondents had faced reproductive health difficulties in their workplaces. This was clearly an issue for its members. They passed a motion at their annual conference and approached me and my Labour Party colleagues to seek assistance in introducing this measure into law.
We became conscious that there was a glaring absence in our statutory leave laws and workplace protection laws in that for women who suffer the grief of an early miscarriage, or any women or men who have to take time off work to access IVF or other fertility treatments, there is no provision for leave in law. Indeed, they currently have to take annual leave, sick leave or unpaid days in order to attend appointments or to recover physically and emotionally from an early miscarriage. Some women members of the INTO reported having returned to work immediately after an early miscarriage because they had no entitlement to leave.
Having worked on the Bill for some time, on 2 March this year my fellow Labour Party Senators and I published legislation to provide statutory leave to those suffering early miscarriage or needing time off for IVF treatment. The structure we used was to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act and use that statutory framework. I am conscious that we could have gone down a different route and used the employment equality legislation or the maternity protection legislation, but we believed this was the appropriate framework. Nevertheless, we are happy to work with the Government at a later stage if a more appropriate legislative framework is found. We just want some mechanism for employees to be able to take leave and get formal recognition in the workplace.
This is not a uniquely Irish issue. As it happens, in late March this year, the Labour Party of New Zealand, under Jacinda Ardern, passed very similar legislation to provide for leave for employees who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth. The debate around our Bill, and internationally around the New Zealand law, has ignited a conversation about the need to face up to the complexity of fertility and reproductive health issues, and the need for the State to provide practical recognition for the role it plays in employees’ lives. Since we published the Bill, my Labour Party colleagues and I have been contacted by many women and couples who have endured the grief and bereavement of early miscarriage, often in silence, or who have gone through multiple cycles of IVF and fertility treatment, and who have felt that there was nobody to whom they could turn within the workplace and no formal space in our law for their grief to be recognised.
It has been heartbreaking to hear some of the stories. On Wednesday evening last, we organised a Labour Party Instagram Live event attended by individuals including Síle Seoige, the well-known broadcaster, and Clodagh O'Hagan, who has spoken about her positive experience in the workplace. Síle spoke about her personal experience of suffering miscarriage and having to go straight back to work afterwards, without any formal acknowledgment. We also heard from Claire Cullen-Delsol of the Termination for Medical Reasons group about the trauma of many of its members in suffering pregnancy loss and, again, having no formal recognition of that in the workplace. We heard from all the speakers how important it is that their experiences be given recognition in our law. Clodagh O'Hagan's experience with a very supportive employer was, for us, an indication of what could be done, a positive story of good practice where an employer was understanding and voluntarily provided her with time off.
If enacted, the Bill will provide women with up to 20 days' leave for early miscarriage and give an entitlement to all employees of up to ten days' leave for access to reproductive healthcare treatment, such as IVF. We have been working since the publication of the Bill to ensure it has cross-party support and I again thank all the colleagues who have expressed their support for it. We have also been contacted by individuals and groups on a number of related issues, which might well be the subject of amendments at later Stages of the debate on the Bill.
For example, we have been approached about the need to introduce an opt-in scheme to provide recognition for stillborn babies, who are not covered by the current legislation. Other issues that were raised with us include the need for greater understanding for women experiencing health difficulties due to menopause. This has been a subject of immense debate and discussion on Joe Duffy's "Liveline" show in recent weeks. For me and others of my age, it is a very pertinent subject and, again, one about which very little has been spoken until now. For a long time there has been a culture of silence that many women have talked about with us since we published the Bill, which has extended to so many facets of women's health, including abortion, periods or menstruation, endometriosis and all sorts of conditions and women's experiences that to us are normal and regular parts of our lives, but that had not been discussed in the public forum until recently. We see this Bill as being very much part of the spectrum of measures to try to break the taboo and culture of silence. It is anticipated therefore that passing this simple Bill will help to break the culture of silence and fulfil a secondary function of destigmatising pregnancy and fertility treatment in the workplace and in society. So many people currently suffer in silence, particularly women, because they do not believe the support is there for them.
Before I hand over to my colleague, Senator Sherlock, I will outline the broader context we should all remember, which is that approximately 14,000 women in Ireland suffer a miscarriage each year. That is why I say it is almost a normal experience or certainly a very frequent one, sadly, for many women. More than one in five pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. Between one in four and one in six couples encounters difficulty in becoming pregnant. The success rate for patients at certain IVF clinics can be very low. The majority of IVF clinics in Ireland are very expensive, costing between €4,500 and €5,000 per cycle. We are very conscious of the immense burden on so many people undergoing what some women describe to me as their fertility journey. We welcome the immense support for this Bill on a cross-party basis and the Government's support. We look forward to it passing through Second Stage and to working with the Minister of State, Deputy English, and colleagues to make it a reality.