Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 March 2021

1:00 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I would like to congratulate the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and her husband, Paul, on the news that they are expecting their first child in May. Is ócáid speisialta í sin i saol an Aire agus a fhear. Gach dea-ghuí orthu.

It is a special time in their lives and they have all our best wishes.

The Minister and I agree that she should of course be entitled to access the same full period of six months' maternity leave as any other public servant. Like any other woman, she should be afforded every opportunity to continue in her role and to pursue her career in accordance with her own wishes. The Government has agreed an approach that upholds the core principles of equality while also operating within the current legal framework, which is based on completely outdated assumptions and attitudes in this area. The Minister will therefore take paid maternity leave from her role for a period of six months with effect from 30 April. The Minister will remain a member of the Government without portfolio for that period. She will be provided with the necessary administrative supports to carry out any limited duties that may arise.

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, will be assigned responsibility for the Department of Justice for the period from 1 May to 31 October. The Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, who attends Government meetings, will be assigned as Minister of State at the Department of Justice for the same period. This assignment will be in addition to her current responsibilities at the Department of Transport. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, will continue in his current role. There will be significant delegation of functions to the two Ministers of State in order to ensure a more balanced workload for this period. Deputy McEntee will resume her role as Minister for Justice on 1 November.

Finally, I believe this illustrates one more the absolute requirement for permanent reform in this area to ensure fully equality for all public representatives and the need to introduce maternity and paternity leave for councillors, Senators, Deputies and Ministers. We want to make sure that having a family is in no way in conflict with pursuing a career in public life. That will require legislative change or possibly constitutional change. These matters are under active consideration by the relevant Departments and also by the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality. It will also involve consultation and engagement with Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Government will bring forward proposals for reform in the coming months after the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality has produced its report, but be assured that we will deliver ambitious reform in this area in line with our programme for Government.

Is cinneadh tábhachtach é seo a léiríonn toil an Rialtaís ré nua a thabhairt isteach maidir le cearta ban agus cearta sibhialta go ginearálta, go háirithe i saol polaitíochta na tíre.

1:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Some speakers are indicating. I will allow a speaker from each group. I see Deputy Bríd Smith has indicated. There is no one from Sinn Féin. We will hear first from Deputy Duncan Smith of the Labour Party.

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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I welcome the Taoiseach's contribution and I wish the Minister for Justice and her husband well for her maternity leave. This is not only an important moment for her personally and for her family but it is, and should be, an important signal to every expectant and future mother in terms of what this country will be doing on maternity leave for all and to ensure that everyone has entitlement to it. This is important and it has our full support. My thanks to the Taoiseach for his statement and we wish the Minister for Justice all the best.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We would like to wish the Minister for Justice all the best as well. It is a great moment in life for her. It illustrates the fact that women's participation in politics is made difficult by the structures in the system and they absolutely have to be changed. We have several councillors who have been impacted by this. That also has to be taken into consideration.

Will the Taoiseach clarify who will be filling in? Will the Minister for Social Protection be doing two jobs, involving the Departments of Social Protection and Justice? It strikes me that this would make neither job especially well looked after in the context of two major portfolios. Is that the intention? It was not clear from what the Taoiseach said whether the Minister for Social Protection will be moving to the Department of Justice and leaving her current Department. Will she cover both? Will the Taoiseach clarify the position, please?

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I wish the Minister for Justice all the best for the coming months and every success in the future. I know that the work around this is urgent and it is not only because of the circumstances that have come up for the Minister. Throughout political life we see so many structures have been in place from a time when the world was dominated even more by males than is the case now. That must come to an end. We need to bring in a regime that has at its core equality and ensure that everyone, regardless of gender, has equal opportunity to fulfil everything they need to do with regard to political life. I wish the Minister all the best in the coming months.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputy Fitzpatrick will speak on behalf of the Regional Group.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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I worked with the Minister for Justice for eight years when I was in Fine Gael. In fairness, she is a fantastic worker. I wish her and Paul the best of luck. I commend the Taoiseach on letting the House know as soon as possible the position with regard to the Minister taking leave.

What Deputy Bríd Smith said is important. It is important that we define the job the Minister for Social Protection will do. In fairness, having two senior roles could dilute the service. I would appreciate if the Taoiseach could explain exactly what will happen when the Minister for Justice goes on maternity leave.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputy Catherine Murphy will contribute next. To be fair to the Deputy, the Taoiseach has made an announcement on the situation.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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I heard it in the office. I wish the Minister for Justice well. It is interesting that it is only when real situations arise that we make changes or work towards making changes. I believe we have to anticipate things in future if we are going to have greater diversity and include women in politics in a real and meaningful way. It has to happen at council level as well as in the Dáil. I wish the Minister well.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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That completes the comments. Does the Taoiseach wish to come back in to clarify the matter?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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As I said, the Minister for Social Protection will be assigned responsibility for the Department of Justice. However, she will also remain as Minister for Social Protection and for Rural and Community Development. As I also stated, the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, who attends Government meetings and who has responsibility as Minister of State at the Department of Transport, will also be assigned as Minister of State at the Department of Justice. There will be significant delegation of functions to the two Ministers of State, Deputies Hildegarde Naughton and Browne, at the Department of Justice to ensure a more balanced workload for the period.