I welcome the Minister of State and colleagues to the House.
Organisation of Working Time (Reproductive Health Related Leave) Bill 2021: Committee Stage
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I also thank the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, for granting us Government time in order to progress this Bill. We are very grateful for that.
A lot has happened since this Bill was introduced and since Second Stage was debated last May. The main driver and proposer of the Bill, former Senator Ivana Bacik, is now in the other House. It has become very clear to us how much of a chord this matter has struck with so many women and men. We have statistics about the degree to which miscarriage, pregnancy loss and infertility affect thousands of men and women in this country. There is silence around pregnancy loss and those who have difficulty conceiving, which is understandable because these matters cut to the very core of us as human beings. It is important that we have this conversation about things that are very important in life and that we recognise that it is not just a health issue but also a workplace one.
We were very heartened to receive cross-party support for this Bill. It is very important to us in the Labour Party that we afford dignity and flexibility within the workplace to those who are going through these experiences and who need that space and accommodation. It is important to say that not everybody will want to talk about what they are going through but some people in particular occupations or jobs simply cannot get the flexibility they need when going through treatment or if they have suffered pregnancy loss. This leave is important because pregnancy loss is not an illness. I was struck while listening to RTÉ this morning by the official from the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, who highlighted so powerfully that once a person stops being pregnant, any pregnancy-related leave is lost to them. The reality is that there is no other leave available within the labour laws in this country, other than taking annual leave or sick leave, and as I said, this is not an illness.
Fertility treatment is not a once-off treatment. It involves a series of tests, scans and procedures that can go on for days. It is not something that can be slotted in in a number of months because our bodies do not work like that. It requires being available for regular appointments. People who have flexibility within their work might be able to duck in and out of the office, or maybe they can work from home, but for teachers, health professionals, retail workers or anybody in a customer-facing or patient-facing service, it is simply impossible to start the day two hours later than they might otherwise, or disappear in the middle of the day and make up that time later. If people have to travel to Dublin, Cork or the other main centres where treatments are privately provided, which is the reality for many couples and individuals wanting to undergo fertility treatment, that involves whole days out of work.
Huge credit goes to the INTO for its campaigning on this issue. My colleague, Senator Hoey, will speak about this further. In 2019, the INTO conducted a survey and 60% of respondents said they had faced reproductive health difficulties in the workplace.
We are grateful for the cross-party support on this but a key part of this Bill is that this is paid leave. The right to leave is an important principle but that right really only becomes accessible and effective for workers when it is paid. Otherwise we are only talking about those workers who can afford to take unpaid time off. We need to ensure we are inclusive of all workers here. Much of our debate last May was about women, and rightly so, but as was highlighted at that time, this is not just about women but also men because men can have fertility difficulties and they may need to present for tests and procedures as well. Our Bill makes it clear that leave is available to both men and women.
There are a number of sections in this Bill that we want to try to tease out in detail. I welcome that we are taking Committee Stage of the Bill today. I am conscious that the Minister said last May that there is work to be done on the Bill. We accept that. I understand that some research in this area was to be undertaken within the Department. We look forward to seeing that and to hearing about it today from the Minister of State. Ultimately, we want this right within the workplace to be afforded to workers as soon as possible. In 21st century Ireland it is not acceptable that we ignore these issues within the workplace.
On section 1 and the Title, I mentioned last year that from the health perspective we still do not have publicly funded IVF in this country. While I acknowledge that the regional fertility hubs are being established in 2022, the reality is that six years after the initial commitment, we still do not have publicly funded IVF treatment in this country. Ireland is one of the few European member states that does not publicly fund this treatment. If we are to ensure that fertility treatment is accessible to all and not just to those who can afford it, then this Government needs to make good on its commitment and to do all it can to put in place access to a publicly funded fertility service as soon as possible.
I have a lengthy list, which I will try to balance by calling people as they presented and also in rotation. The next speaker is Senator Ardagh, followed by Senator Doherty.
I commend the Labour Party on bringing forth this legislation and I commend the Government for taking it in Government time. As pointed out by Senator Sherlock, Ireland is one of a few countries that does not publicly fund IVF, which affects one in six couples. This legislation in regard to leave in the workplace is a really important step to ensure that the stigma associated with fertility treatment and suffering a loss is reduced dramatically, and that for those who suffer losses or have to go through IVF the journey is a less lonely one. It is important that the State acknowledges this.
During the previous Seanad, I went through five rounds of IVF. This legislation will not affect officeholders, just as the maternity legislation does not protect officeholders and we are not entitled to maternity leave. It is important, for elected representatives, councillors, Senators and Deputies, that we tease out how a provision might be included in this legislation that would be helpful to them. When I was going through IVF, I was constantly ducking and diving into meetings, making up excuses as to why I might have to leave early or arrived late. It is not just about the fertility appointments. There is an emotional and mental health effect of it. The individual needs some time afterwards to break down what has happened, how the test went or did not go and so on. There are many ups and downs. This is great legislation, but we need to follow on from it and ensure that, as stated by Senator Sherlock, we provide publicly funded IVF.
My colleague, Senator O'Loughlin, and I have a Bill almost ready for publication, which we are hoping to bring forward in Fianna Fáil Private Members' time. We know that the assisted human reproduction Bill is coming down the road, but there are no funding provisions in that Bill in that it relates purely to regulation.
As stated by Senator Sherlock, there are fertility hubs, but there is still a huge vacuum in terms of how we are going to fund IVF. Cycles of IVF can cost between €5,000 and €10,000. That level of funding has not yet been properly committed to in this country. I am delighted to support this Bill, but I hope it can be somehow extended to officeholders as well.
I support this Bill in all its shape and form. We might not get to speak to all of the amendments or sections today, but I very much support the Bill. I say that against the backdrop of what the country has been speaking about for the past week, that is, the need for societal change in how we treat women in every aspect of their lives. I accept that in a small number of cases this relates to men as well.
We talk about issues such as losing babies and women taking sick leave following such loss in the shadows, but when this happens women are not sick; they are bereaved and grieving. We speak in hushed tones about IVF and women and men going for fertility treatment and IVF courses, which are hugely expensive and should absolutely be supported by the State. We do so because it is nearly not normal. We have a Constitution and a society that is based on the foundation of the family because we value the family so much. However, in so many aspects of Irish life, 50% of our families are disregarded. We are downgraded. We are not respected by the roles that the State provides, the services and the agencies that the State provides and the way the State treats us. That happens in so many ways. It starts with our primary school teachers, the vast majority of whom are women. If we were really clear and careful about showing our children what equality looks like we would make sure that we have in our primary schools the same number of male teachers as we have female teachers. In all of what are known as the caring professions the stereotype in every aspect of Irish society is misguided and wrong and always downgrades the female experience.
I do not mean to be disrespectful to Government. I know that not everything can come at the same time and all at once. I welcome that there is a willingness to do this and that the research needs to be done, but six months on from the introduction of this Bill, we are still dealing with it. It is not rocket science. It is just a little right such that when a woman loses a baby, a much loved member of a family, or is trying to create one, there is a little bit of respect and dignity in that process.
The amendments that I wanted to push today are related to a different matter. They are about women who experience loss, but the baby loss does not quite make the definition of stillbirth. While it might not meet the grams required by the WHO to reach that standard or the days in terms of pregnancy, it does not make the loss any less. There are women and men in this country whose babies are not recognised by the State because they were a couple of grams off or a couple of days off. There is one such baby in my county. It is not good enough.
We do this on the basis that it will interfere with other laws or other services. We need to treat people and families with dignity and respect. We need to shake ourselves. We need major societal change. We need to ensure we do not treat 51% of the population of this country with any less regard, support, dignity, practice and laws that they need to enable them to be the fulfilled people that we should have in society. We should hang our heads in shame because the Constitution, which we cherish, is only words when the actions behind it are not brought to bear.
I support the Bill. I have listened to the comments of other Senators, in particular Senator Ardagh, which showed the difficulty and the challenges on the human side. I know from personal experience in Galway city and beyond that this is something that has touched almost every household and every family in the land. We are all aware of what an enormously difficult time it is for parents and that for other family members, be they brothers, sisters, cousins or friends, it is frightening.
The Government has previously stated agreement with the basic point being made by the Bill, that is, the need to provide for entitled paid leave where the employee has suffered a miscarriage at 28 weeks gestation or less. The Bill also proposes to provide for ten days leave with pay in regard to the receipt of treatment from a registered practitioner in the State in regard to the pregnancy, childbirth or assisted human reproduction. Across the Chamber there is broad agreement in that regard.
As we know, as a preliminary step, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth conducted a survey of existing research and literature on the subject of pregnancy loss, domestically and internationally. It identified a need for further research of the workplace experience for parents who are dealing with pregnancy loss.
A tender for the qualitative research was developed and has been issued for response by the end of January 2022, which is welcome. The subject is of a very sensitive nature, as we have heard in the Chamber today. I think it has been decided that the research should be reviewed by the ethics committee and has, therefore, been issued only to the relevant institutions. It is anticipated the outcome of the study will be available in the summer of 2022 and we will all welcome it.
The Minister for Social Protection advises that her Department is completing a review of the legislation relating to the registration of stillbirths and will be bringing forward proposals to facilitate broader access to the stillbirth register in the form of a civil registration (amendment) Bill later this year, as I understand it. The Tánaiste and Ministers understand the importance of progressing the proposals in this area as soon as possible, and the relevant Departments will be working collaboratively, undertaking to progress these matters over the coming months, and will follow completion of the above-mentioned research and reviews with the development of appropriate Government legislative proposals in line with the principles of the Bill before the end of 2022.
As all Members will be aware, the Organisation of Working Time Act was enacted to provide for the implementation of the European working time directive. In that regard, it sets out an employee's maximum working hours, entitlement to a minimum rest period and entitlement to a minimum period of paid annual leave. The Organisation of Working Time Act is not designed to be an initiator of new policies or to set the terms and conditions around the taking of specific forms of compassionate leave. With that in mind, the Government is of the view that stand-alone legislation would be more appropriate to advance this issue. That is my understanding. Regardless of the vehicle used, whether it is amending this Organisation of Working Time Act or new legislation, this is needed. The discussion in the House today is welcome. The most important thing is that we will resolve the issue. The Government commitment to bringing forward legislation, which it will do before the end of the year, and it is be hoped before that, is welcome. As has been outlined by other Members, we all want the issue to be resolved as soon as possible but it must be resolved in the most comprehensive manner possible.
Senator Doherty talked about this as an issue that is in the shadows. If the House will be good enough to indulge me, I would like to share some of the evidence and testimony that was gathered in advance of putting this Bill together. This work was done by the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO. We have referenced the fact the INTO is the organisation that has been pushing this matter. It did a considerable amount of work and research and gathered some very personal testimony, if I may be honest. People shared some of their deep experiences as to why this is so important. If the House will allow me a moment, I will read some of the testimony. I will not read out every piece of testimony because it is quite lengthy. There is a considerable amount here.
The INTO conducted a survey and got a total of 2,271 responses, which is a decent number. Some 92% of the respondents were female and came from across all of Ireland, so the information is well spread geographically. Some 40% had never experienced a reproductive health issue. Of those, 20% had supported a spouse or partner who had experienced such an issue. We have heard a couple of references in the course of the debate to people supporting those who are experiencing reproductive needs. Some 60%, or 1,311 respondents, indicated they had experienced an issue. They came from all across Ireland. Approximately half of the respondents indicated they had experienced a pre-24-week miscarriage, while 28% experienced fertility screening and 26% availed of fertility treatment. A sizeable number of respondents were impacted by these issues.
Other issues that respondents self-declared in the survey included threatened miscarriage, diagnoses of polycystic ovaries and endometriosis. The pre-24-week and threatened miscarriage were the most commonly reported health-related matters, followed by fertility treatment or diagnosis. I know this is somewhat laborious but it is important for us to know some of the facts and evidence behind this matter when we talk about it.
Some 75% of those who experienced a reproductive health-related matter indicated they had to deliberately use school closures, either mid-term breaks or school holidays, to schedule appointments or treatments because they needed time off work to do so. The majority of those did so because they did not want to take time off on a school day. One fifth of those respondents cited privacy reasons. They did not want anyone to know. Others felt unable to share with the principal. Others had exhausted their sick leave entitlements. Some others also mentioned using extra personal vacation, EPV, days, moving to job sharing, taking career breaks, where possible, or scheduling early morning of after-school appointments and treatments to help manage their reproductive health leave requirements.
One respondent, quoted in the INTO survey, stated:
During IVF treatment I travelled to Dublin leaving at 5 am to have early appointment so that I would be back in work for 10 am. Thankfully I was lucky but the huge amount of unnecessary stress I put on myself, in hindsight, was ridiculous.
Another stated, "I felt I could not take school days and used up EPV days or tried to schedule appointments during holidays but this can be very problematic for IVF treatments."
Many respondents stated they were extremely conscious of inconveniencing their classes, principals or other teachers if they did not avail of a leave day that did not require substitution. They indicated they were worried about what parents would think if they were mysteriously absent without adequate cover being provided. We all know about children being divvied up between classes when unexplained things happen. Some of the respondents were concerned that would have an effect on them and their careers.
Some of the respondents indicated they would have preferred to keep the matter private but had to tell their principals to find a way to manage appointments. Given that the scheduling of many appointments or treatments for fertility are cycle dependent, as we all know, it was nearly impossible not to take a school day off for many of the respondents.
Many respondents also said that managing leave caused stress on top of their personal and emotional stress. For anyone who has gone through IVF, miscarriages or anything like that, additional stress on top of an already difficult situation is not helpful.
Another respondent stated:
I didn’t want to take school days but when you’re dealing with fertility it becomes cycle dependent. In the end I had to tell my principal because I couldn’t deal with the stress and stress just makes the situation worse.
These problems were compounded for those who did not have permanent contracts. I will not go off on a tangent about my thoughts on the impact of not having permanent contracts and people trying to live their lives. However, another respondent said, "I do not have a permanent job and would feel that telling my principal that I was going for fertility treatment would stand against me in any future job interviews." That is something we must consider.
Other respondents did not want to use sick leave. In that regard, one respondent said, "The reduced sick leave scheme puts pressure to returning to work when sometimes one is not emotionally ready e.g. following a late miscarriage."
I have talked a bit about those who felt they had to divulge the information to principals, and it is important, as has been mentioned, that this Bill does not require anyone to divulge. It will create an option if people want to avail of this particular type of leave. The survey report stated, "If there was a Reproductive Health Related Leave Scheme almost three quarters of respondents indicated that they would be either very comfortable or very comfortable submitting a medical certificate that indicated reproductive related matter for inclusion in the OCLS by their principal and a second person in the school." People have raised concerns about whether people would feel comfortable coming forward. This survey indicates that three quarters of respondents have said they would be comfortable doing that. It is a significant matter to bear in mind.
One person who responded to the survey said she had not told her principal but had complications while in the school. She went on to say, "I left school in an ambulance related to this issue, therefore [everyone] became aware of the condition."
Many of the comments of the respondents emphasised the added stress they were under, at both a personal and professional level, when trying to manage their leave for reproductive health. One respondent said, "It's a stressful thing to have to go through without having to stress about taking time off and how to keep the matter private." Another said:
I’m currently out on sick leave from surgery and now reproductive health issues and feel incredible pressure because of the reduced sickness entitlement. It’s adding more stress to my recovery in turn its taking longer.
The stress and secrecy are compounding the issue, making it more difficult for people to manage and adding additional recovery days.
Another respondent said:
Despite my principal being as incredibly supportive as possible, I put myself under unnecessary stress and worry while undergoing IVF. I scheduled all my scans for early morning and would try to get into work just a half hour late. Even though some of my scans were very uncomfortable and I felt unwell afterwards, I felt my principal had been so accommodating that I didn’t want to trouble her further. I wasn’t in a position to take unpaid days to cover appointment days.
Those are just some of the testimonies that people gave when the INTO did its survey.
There was a mention as well of the stigma attached to reproductive health. People felt they could not tell someone. We in the Labour Party are very hopeful that in passing this Bill we will specifically deal with the stigma. Having the legislation in place will somehow alleviate some of the stigma and pressure where currently people are hiding and operating in secrecy and they do not want others to know what it is that they are doing. We hope that will help some people deal with the stigma.
We need to do better by workers. This is an issue of equality. It is a workers' rights issue. It is a health issue. More than anything, it is a deeply personal issue. We have a responsibility as legislators to do our utmost to rectify the wrongs of reproductive issues that have consistently been left in the shadows. I thank the INTO and Dublin Lord Mayor, Councillor Alison Gilliland, for pursuing this issue and for giving us that comprehensive piece of research. If anyone wants to look at the full report, it is available on the INTO website. I also thank Deputy Bacik for putting the Bill together. It is great that we have Government time and Government support on this. I hope that we can get this over the line. We have left reproductive healthcare too long in the shadows and it is time that we got it done.
I welcome the debate on the Bill, and I offer my support it. I wish to touch on the point Senator Hoey finished on regarding stigma. As public representatives, we talk to people who are probably open enough to talk about it and do not suffer from a need to hide anything, or at least they do not any more, while they might have had at the time. There are so many people in this country, even family members, who do not talk to each other about it. There are probably people in this room who have a family member who went through this experience who have not told them about it. The stigma is so ingrained over years and years of not talking about such issues.
I hope the Bill will deal with many issues. It is not perfect yet, and we need to debate it and wait for research from the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth but it recognises what a traumatic experience this is for couples. It will also have a knock-on effect in changing the stigma around this very sensitive issue.
The Leader touched on a very good point, which is that the Constitution in this country is founded on supporting families. As a whole, we are quite good at that. In recent years there has been much support for families, early childhood and extended paternity leave. Senator Doherty addressed such issues during her tenure in the Department of Social Protection. Parental leave increased from two weeks to five weeks and now to seven weeks, which is significant and helpful. There are also free GP services for children. This and previous Governments have introduced a range of initiatives to support the family structure and young children.
It seems strange to me that we can support someone who loses a child after 26 weeks and give them the space to grieve and recover from it, but we do not do it before 26 weeks or certainly not to the same extent. I have one child and we were lucky that everything went okay when it was born but if something had gone wrong at 23 weeks or 27 weeks, my grief and sense of loss would be no different. The Government must recognise the loss, grievance and pain couples go through. Twenty four weeks is a long time for a couple to expect a baby and then for it not to happen. The grieving process takes time. The Government must support people in the process. With the contribution of everyone through amendments, the Bill will help the process.
A number of speakers touched on IVF. I brought this up before Christmas when I raised a Commencement matter on it. If memory serves me right, Senator Sherlock referred to the fact that Ireland and Lithuania are the only two countries that do not provide a service for people in this state. That is wholly unacceptable. It is even more unacceptable because we promised people we would do it. The commitment was made three or four years ago. We only need to look across the water where two rounds of IVF treatment are provided free of charge by the state. We must improve the supports provided to couples in that regard. I have spoken to a number of people about the experience, and it is a very difficult period for them. In the first case, it is very difficult for people to accept it, but the sense I get is that people who go through it feel they are on their own and they do not have the backing of the State. Senator Ardagh explained very well her own experience of it.
I look forward to the contribution of the Minister of State. On the whole, people recognise the urgency and need for this legislation. It will improve an awful lot of things, not only just give people an opportunity to grieve and to get over the devastation of it but also to change society. We should become more open and more willing to talk about such difficulties to help people who experience them in the future.
I am particularly proud to co-sponsor this Bill. It is a very important moment for us in this country to have the Bill coming before us. I too pay tribute to the Leader of the Seanad for allowing it to come before us today. That is very important.
I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. This is a very important discussion and we must have more of them. I put on record my thanks to my former colleague, now Deputy Bacik, for her wonderful work on the Bill. We all know what she has done for women's health in this country. She has been to the forefront of so many conversations in this regard about the shortcomings we have in this country in women's health. We need to have more conversations about that in this House and in the Lower House. It is vital that such conversations take place as quickly as possible.
I also pay tribute to my colleague, who is now Lord Mayor of Dublin, as has been mentioned. She was a councillor when the conversations first began. I refer to Alison Gilliland for her work with the INTO. My colleague, Senator Hoey, has outlined the stories the INTO has gathered from across the country on the important issues we are going to deal with through the Bill.
As always, I was especially taken by the Leader's contribution on the past ten days and where we are in this country regarding women's health. As a male politician, I think we are at a point now where we have to look at that again. I am sure this is the starting point. We cannot let the conversation that has happened in the past ten days go by without changing what we do for women in this country, and in particular for women's health. What the Leader has said has brought it home to me and I am sure to every male politician in the Oireachtas, that now is the time.
I listened to the debate in this House and in the Lower House yesterday and what was said about women's health and the need for zero tolerance of gender-based violence. Those are the conversations we have, and these are the type of Bills that we need to introduce urgently in this country so that we can have a republic we are all proud of.
We had cross-party support on Second Stage of the Bill in May 2020 from all Senators who spoke in the House that day. There were also heartfelt stories from those who have been through these experiences. They brought it home to me, which is important. As other speakers have said, the human story is very important. Like me and everyone else in this House, the Minister of State runs clinics on Saturdays and Mondays or whenever we can.
When we get that phone call from a couple who want to come to talk to us about IVF or about their experience of the hospital environment, it tends to be a very private conversation. Senator Ahearn and others mentioned the stigma that surrounds this. When those people are in front of one and tell one their human story, it brings home the importance of what we are doing here today and of how we have to help those people and their communities and families because, as has been said, many families do not know that a family member is going through this. Many people go through it alone, which is totally unacceptable. It is important to say, as was said on Second Stage in May and has been said again during this debate, that we are here to help people. That is one of our jobs as legislators and it is why I am particularly proud, as a Labour Party Senator, to have contributed to the Bill.
I look forward to the debate on the amendments over the coming while and to what will be discussed in that regard. I thank the Minister of State and look forward to his contribution. This is a start and it is where we need to go. We need to do so quickly.
As I did on Second Stage, I very much welcome this incredibly important Bill. These are areas where there have been shadows of silence on people's experiences for a long time. Even that Second Stage debate was very important for many people, many of whom will have spoken about their experiences or will have had people talk to them about their experiences in the period following it. In general over recent years in Ireland, there has been a breaking of many kinds of silence through the recounting of the individual experiences people have had. When they are able to talk about them, they are able to do so as patterns or common experiences, such as relating to violence, which they can then share. When we are able to speak about these issues and address them properly, we are able to look to how we can better collectively support one another. It is not just about individuals breaking the silence but also about being able to put those experiences alongside one another and ask how we can do better as a society.
The Bill is an example of legislation that, importantly, recognises that we are not just an economy but also a society, and that workers are not simply workers but full humans, with families and personal circumstances, and work is just part of their lives. We need also to value those important aspects. As Senator Doherty rightly said, we sometimes talk about valuing these aspects at the constitutional level, but we must also follow through. We may say we will give care, waiting and supports to all those aspects of life for everybody who lives in our country, but that is not always followed through on.
I very much commend the former Senator Bacik and her party colleagues, Senators Wall, Hoey, Moynihan and Sherlock on bringing forward the Bill. It is interesting and strong that it has come from the INTO. The Irish Womens Workers Union was the first union to seek paid leave of any kind. It was the first to argue for the right to two weeks' holiday a year and it won that for all of us. The two-week holiday matters for people because workers have families and lives outside work. That the INTO, which represents so many women, although of course we want to see equality in teaching whereby more men will go into teaching, would champion this issue is appropriate and strong and it sends a clear message.
We have heard about those experiences relating to time and communication. Time really matters in respect of IVF, reproductive care and reproductive rights. When we talk about climate, I always say there are planetary boundaries we cannot negotiate with. Similarly, the question of reproductive cycles, or the right days for the right thing to happen, is really important. When people miss windows of opportunity, it can have significant consequences. The stress of balancing a rigid workplace context and having to find ways around it really does have an impact, and those opportunities change from month to month and year to year. It is very important, therefore, that people have control over the days and times they need to prioritise their reproductive health. That is why the Bill explicitly stating that this leave is for reproductive health is so crucial. Another crucial aspect - I commend Senator Ahearn for mentioning it - relates to IVF. There has been a three-year delay for those who cannot privately afford IVF, in regard to bringing in an entitlement to access supported IVF in this State. That will be too long for some families and people. That, too, is an area that needs to be prioritised and progressed.
The Bill recognises that we need not just a legislative change in regard to the State entitlement but also a change in the workplace. That is important and could be applied to other areas. Sadly, as we heard from the testimonies, the sections in the Bill that concern the protection of workers' rights are necessary. As a result, accessing the kinds of entitlements that will be provided for in the legislation will not affect people's employment rights. They will not have to be afraid or worry about that, and that is very important.
There are elements we will need to reconsider. The section before us concerns the principal Act, the Organisation of Working Time Act, which is appropriate, but it intersects with other legislation, something we will need to tease out. For example, when we come to debate section 5, I will talk about the fact that, sometimes, it is not about a particular number of weeks but rather whether it is, say, three weeks, seven weeks, nine weeks or 24 weeks. We must ensure that the maternity leave legislation will be properly applied where people want to access maternity leave. There are entitlements of 26 weeks to that type of leave in the case of a stillbirth and that should be there as an option. We need to examine how the Bill will intersect with other Acts and ensure we will centre the experiences people have had, at whatever time that might be. The stillbirth register, for example, is really important to people and the Government plans to make its own proposal in that regard, as I understand from earlier contributions. That is important and it will require looking for the best aspects of all the proposals and bringing them forward. I hope that will not delay this legislation, on reproductive leave, because I would like us to get it over the line, as well as accelerating action on both the stillbirth register and entitlement to IVF, which are intersecting matters.
I look forward to further debate on the Bill and commend the proposers on bringing forward the legislation and taking account of the reality of life, new life and everything that goes with all these experiences. We must recognise that miscarriages vary greatly and can happen at different stages of life. Sometimes a miscarriage can take a prolonged period, of weeks at a time. That is something on which I might table amendments on Report Stage and which I might seek to reflect in the legislation at a later point.
I welcome the Minister of State and commend my colleagues in the Labour Party for putting together this excellent Bill, which Sinn Féin fully supports. This is a workers' rights issue. I listened to Senator Hoey's recounting of the testimonies, including women having to get up at 5 a.m. in order to get IVF treatment and then go to their workplace. I cannot help but feel that, if this were an issue men had to experience, it would have been resolved decades ago. It is welcome that we are tackling it with this Bill. I commend the Leader on giving Government time and facilitating it. That is the type of constructive politics the Seanad can demonstrate, and when it does it, it does it really well.
The idea that women have to pretend nothing has happened and return to work after experiencing a miscarriage is offensive on so many levels and it is time we tackled it. I share the Leader's concerns about the fact that six months have passed between Second Stage and this Stage, and it would be great if we could get a commitment to getting the Bill moving. I am conscious we are running out of time in today's session but let us hope there will be an early follow-on Committee Stage session in order that we can get it moving. Pregnant human beings are waiting for it to be resolved. Anyone who knows someone who has undergone IVF treatment, as I do, will know how stressful it is.
The Bill's intentions are excellent.
The INTO deserves credit for championing this cause for so long. It is great that there appears to be cross-party support. The Minister will take note of that. Let us hope that we work constructively because what I would not want to see is a situation where we are told that this Bill is good but there is a better way of doing things. There should be enough co-operation across the Seanad Chamber to ensure that we get this Bill, improved if it needs to be, across the line as quickly as we can so that we can achieve change for women.
I completely and utterly support this Bill. I commend the Labour Party for bringing it forward, and the INTO for campaigning on it.
There is no question but that we need red-circled time for people who are going through reproductive health issues. I have got up previously and stated that I have done 13 in vitro fertilisations, IVFs. By the time one adds it all up, it is a re-mortgage and we do need the funding that follows that. Before one arrives at that stage and is accepted for IVF, one has to prove that one has tried every other possible thing. That includes getting up, taking temperatures and doing scans to see if one is ovulating. There is a whole heap of things that have to be done to justify sitting there to get the sort of treatment that one requires. We need to be careful about at what point people come under the cover of being entitled to the provisions of this Bill and making sure that we do not say that there has to be a threshold before which they are sick, are on their own or whatever. That journey to accepting that the terminology of infertility applies to one can be quite long and some of the mental anguish of it can be quite considerable.
While I am on the issue of terminology, what I would see for this Bill, and what is happening in research in bringing something through under the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, is that we confront the terminology. I have sat in consultations and heard terms such as "geriatric mother", "inhospitable womb" and "incompetent cervix". I have sat with others as those terms were used. They are abusive and aggressive terms. I am confident nobody intends them that way but there is no other way to receive them. People in that situation are already questioning their identity, their usefulness, their body, their experience and the things they hoped for from when they were a child - to hold their own baby - when they were playing with a doll. They have all of that, and then have the medical terminology being so unbelievably sexist.
If we start with reproductive leave, I am 100% behind that but we also need to open up a conversation on the equality and treatment and how we as a society, just as the Leader has said, deal with people who are experiencing problems in their reproductive life and in the hopes that they had of that, and just how aggressive and diminishing an experience that can be for the individuals going through it. I would hope that we see that in the course of all of this and that we would also see support in the aftermath. There are couples going through IVF that fails. Even when it is a success, it can be triggered into a post-traumatic stress because it is so all-consuming.
We need a compassionate move as a society. We need an intolerance for all the "what is for you will not pass you" sort of comments where one just wants to shake the person and say, "Seriously, no." Invariably, it comes from people who have found it easy to have children.
We need to aggressively take it on and bring it out into the open. I loved that about out the debate last May and about the ongoing journey. It feels like we are on a trajectory of bringing all of this out into the open, bringing a dignity to what can at times be an undignified experience, but bringing a dignity in our society to cherishing the couples and single people that are going through this journey and that there is a compassion in our society for it.
We must adjourn at 2.30 p.m. and that is five minutes away. The Minister of State has to get in. Could Senator Mullen make his point in 30 seconds or will I go to the Minister of State?
Can I make a point? Because this is my first time taking Committee Stage from this side, I do not know if I need to come in straightaway today. I am happy to wait until the next day. It is up to the House.
I am easy.
That is very kind. I thank the Minister of State for that. We have five minutes left so. Senator Garvey is offering as well. With five minutes between three Senators, I ask them to be as brief as possible. I call Senator O'Loughlin.
I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate the gesture. Deputy English is very kind.
It is important to thank Deputy Bacik for initiating this Bill and Senator Sherlock for leading it through the House. It is certainly an important Bill and I would hope that any obstacles that are in the way from the Minister of State's point of view will be looked at and taken out of the way. It is important that this proceeds and gets to the next Stage and is initiated.
For too long, there has been a taboo about speaking about miscarriage and reproductive healthcare. We need to open the conversation, we need to share the experiences and we need to be able to support, console and bring dignity and respect into this argument.
The physical and emotional trauma that women go through in their miscarriage journey is significant. That has to be recognised by Government and I have no doubt that it is. We need to put this leave in place. We must recognise the pain and the suffering that both infertility and miscarriage cause.
Senator Ardagh referenced earlier, and there has been some conversation around, IVF and the need to have State funding and continuity of care. That is important. One in six couples find themselves not being able to conceive naturally. If a couple do not have access to money it means they cannot attempt to have that much-longed for child. That is wrong. There needs to be equity of access. I believe it is really important the State brings that funding and that is what our Bill will attempt to do.
Of course, we will have to return to some of these issues at another time. All I would like to say for now is that I commend all that is good in this Bill but I deprecate all that is sad. I hear my colleague, Senator Higgins, referencing new life and in a background here is a new legal architecture in the State that is about ending new life.
I am very open. Where anybody needs care, after an abortion or otherwise, I do not see any logic or justice in excluding people from whatever benefits the State proposes to offer. That is a different point.
On what Senator Seery Kearney had to say about open and sensitive language, I so agree about sensitive language. We should always check and continue to adjust language if it is hurtful, etc., but sometimes we have to call a spade a spade too. Sometimes we have to say there is a time after which there are greater hazards, etc., in pregnancy. We have to be able to talk about issues.
We have to be able to talk about the fact that this Bill does not use the word "woman" anywhere. With great respect to all those who need support and care in our society, is the National Woman's Council to become the national pregnant people's council? There is a parallel universe sometimes in the language that is used around here where people talk about openness but refuse to get to grips with some of the aspects of this debate where we have to be able to disagree, but in a respectful way, but to talk about issues. It takes courage to call out some of the concepts that need to be in some way challenged.
I hope we can get to a place where we can have a thorough respectful debate and not have the situation like we had this morning where, when somebody expressed their sincerely held view, somebody else heckled them while on the way out of the Chamber, not even giving them the courtesy of listening to their case in full. There is much to be commended in this Bill but there are certain things that, to my mind, should carry a major warning about where we can go as a society when we close down the debate about life and its dignity.
This Bill is straightforward. We would not be debating it if we had a majority of women in charge of this country. It is mad that we have to debate these things. This is a straightforward thing that we need.
One in four women have a miscarriage. That means a good proportion of the women here, because we are 40% female, have had miscarriages. Many of my friends and family have experienced it. It is traumatic. They have to go into the maternity hospital where everyone around them is having babies. There are loads of issues with this. The least we should be doing is passing this Bill. It is 2022. We do not have time to be debating this. We just have to get this done now.
The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, are doing great work and research so that we do it right. That is also good.
Both IVF and miscarriage are traumatic. Women need time. If we give this recognition, employers will have to give it recognition and there will be less of a stigma. For years people did not even talk about the fact they had had a miscarriage or that they were using IVF. That is completely mental. In this day and age we should not be suppressed in any way. We know how oppressed we are and our voices are for many reasons and in lots of ways, and we do not call out things. However, we should not be hiding behind this. This Bill will really support us to not be embarrassed about this kind of stuff. I would really appreciate it if Senator Mullen would keep his rosaries off our ovaries, for once and for all.
Nobody mentioned religion except the Senator.
I will leave it at that.
It is the Senator's obsession, not mine.
That is the end of the debate. I thank the Minister of State for engaging to let the final three Senators get into the debate. It is greatly appreciated.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.