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Maternity Leave

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 28 September 2021

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Ceisteanna (122, 140, 143)

Neale Richmond

Ceist:

122. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the progress to date on establishing and implementing maternity leave arrangements for councillors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46327/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Ceist:

140. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide an update on progress relating to the establishment and implementation of maternity leave for councillors; the interactions his Department has had with councillors and other Departments and State bodies on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46207/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Emer Higgins

Ceist:

143. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will report on the progress to date on establishing and implementing maternity leave for councillors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46321/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 122, 140 and 143 together.

Councillors, like members of the Oireachtas, are office holders rather than employees. As such, they are not covered by the statutory framework for employees on issues such as maternity leave, sick leave and annual leave.

As matters stand, it is under the provisions of Section 18 of the Local Government Act 2001 that councillors may be absent for maternity purposes. Under Section 18, a councillor shall be deemed to have automatically resigned from membership of a local authority if he or she is absent from meetings for a continuous period of 6 consecutive months. Where the absence is due to illness or “in good faith for another reason”, then the period of absence may be extended first to 12 months and then to up to 18 months by resolution of the Council.

A councillor who is absent for 6 months will continue to receive the full amount of his or her Representational Payment, currently worth €25,788 per annum. Thereafter this payment is reduced by 50% for absences of 6 to 12 months duration. A councillor who is absent for more than 12 months will not receive any further payments regardless of the reason for the absence.

With effect from January 2017, the Social Welfare Acts were amended so that councillors gained access to the same benefits as self-employed contributors. Accordingly, councillors are now reckonable for the purposes of accessing Class S benefits, including Maternity Benefit.

Following the publication of Ms Sara Moorhead S.C.’s Review of the Role and Remuneration of Local Authority Elected Members, I approved the establishment of a working group of key local government stakeholders, including councillor representative organisations. The working group was tasked with drawing up an Action Plan for examination and implementation of the non-pay related recommendations in the Moorhead Report. Addressing these non-pay issues, together with the significant pay reforms for elected members that were approved by Government and brought into effect on 1st July 2021, will facilitate the retention of existing councillors, while also maximising the accessibility of local government to future candidates.

As I believe that the issue of maternity leave warrants urgent attention and includes wider matters and supports other than maternity leave, I asked the local government stakeholder working group to establish a subgroup specifically to examine all maternity-related matters for councillors. This group, which is a representative and cross political party group of women councillors, has met a number of times to date, and has given my officials and I greater understanding of the needs of women councillors in this regard.

My officials are working closely with the Office of the Attorney General on the legal issues identified. My intention, over the coming months, is to bring forward a package of maternity-related measures, including proposals for legislative change, which councillors will be able to avail of.

The absence of maternity leave is a perceived obstacle to the participation of women in local government. It is however one that I am determined to address as a matter of urgency, in a progressive and comprehensive manner. This will help to ensure that councillors are more fully representative of the constituents they serve, but also that the role of the councillor is accessible, manageable and sustainable for all.

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