Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
As I said in regard to the previous matters, I am representing the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke, today. I will read the script provided but I have a personal opinion which I will happily deliver when I have finished the script.
I thank Senator Davitt for raising the important matter of maternity leave for local authority elected members. In the programme for Government, Our Shared Future, the Government has clearly set out the commitment to address the need for greater diversity and gender equality in local government, especially where there are too few women involved in elected politics.My colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for local government and planning, Deputy Peter Burke, is determined to act on this commitment and, since his appointment, has already approved a number of important initiatives, working with key partners, to encourage greater participation of women in local politics. This work will continue through the current local electoral cycle and beyond.
It is clear that the issue of maternity leave is an important consideration for women entering political life at a local level. The matter is also the subject of ongoing debate within these Houses. However, as the Oireachtas debate has shown, the matter is not straightforward.
As the Senator will be aware, local authority elected members are officeholders rather than employees and, as such, are not covered under the statutory framework for employee protection on issues relating to leaves of absence, including maternity or paternity leave.
As matters stand, however, it is appropriate to point out that the Local Government Act 2001, as amended, already makes important provision for councillors' absence. Under section 18(4) of the Act, a councillor may be absent from meetings for six consecutive months while continuing to hold his or her seat - depending on who the chair is, I might add. This period may be extended for a further six months by way of a resolution passed by the other members of the council where the absence is "due to illness" or "in good faith for another reason". This can be extended again for another six-month period on foot of a further resolution, allowing for a maximum of 18 months' consecutive absence - I must add, depending on which county council one is a member of.
A councillor who has been absent from meetings for six months will continue to receive the full amount of his or her representational payment, worth €17,000 per annum. Thereafter the payment will be reduced by 50% for absences of six to 12 months' duration. No further payments may be made after 12 months' consecutive absence. Maternity leave is not an absence. I need to add that because it seems to be missing from the script.