Taoiseach Micheál Martin has given details of the arrangements that will allow Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (pictured) to take paid maternity leave for six months from 30 April.
The changes mean that current Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys will also be given responsibility for the Department of Justice for the period from 1 May to 31 October.
During this period, Minister McEntee will remain a member of the Government, without portfolio, before resuming her role as Minister for Justice on 1 November.
Minister McEntee announced late last year that she was pregnant, becoming the first Irish minister to be pregnant in office. There are, however, no legal provisions for her to take maternity leave.
'Permanent reform' needed
The Taoiseach said the Government and the minister had agreed on an approach that would uphold the core principles of equality, while also operating within the current legal framework, which he said was “based on completely outdated assumptions and attitudes”.
He added that there was a need for “permanent reform” in this area, promising that the Government would bring forward proposals in the coming months.
In a statement, Minister McEntee said that, while she was thankful to her colleagues for their help and co-operation, it was clear that the lack of provision for maternity, paternity, and other types of leave for those in public life was an issue that needed a long-term solution.
The Taoiseach said that the minister should be entitled to access the same period of 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 Taoiseach added.
As a result of the agreement, Hildegarde Naughton will become Minister of State at the Department of Justice for the six-month period, in addition to her current responsibilities as a junior minister at the Department of Transport.
James Browne will continue as Minister of State at the Department of Justice.
Delegation of functions
The Taoiseach said there would be “significant delegation” of functions to the two junior ministers to ensure a more balanced workload.
He said the Government now wanted to make sure that having a family was in no way in conflict with pursuing a career in public life.
The Taoiseach said this would require legislative, or possibly constitutional, change, adding that the issue was being considered by the relevant Government departments and by Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality.
The UK government recently rushed through legislation to allow its chief legal adviser Suella Braverman to make history by becoming the UK’s first cabinet minister to take maternity leave in office.