Maternity leave: NI councillors are being asked to take time off

Many people have called for Northern Ireland's local councillors to be eligible to maternity leave.

Maternity leave: NI councillors are being asked to take time off

Many people have called for Northern Ireland's local councillors to be eligible to maternity leave.

This comes just as plans are announced to offer maternity leave to councillors in Republic of Ireland.

These proposals allow for a substitute councillor to be appointed for 26 weeks, with a further 14-week period unpaid.

There were concerns that women might be under pressure to vote in council elections and attend meetings.

While councillors in the Republic receive a salary, those in Northern Ireland do not. However, they do receive an allowance.

Michelle Kelly, a Belfast City Council Alliance councillor, gave birth to Charlotte last April.

BBC News NI told her that the lack of maternity support in Northern Ireland was "a major obstacle for women entering politics".

She added, "When Charlotte was born last spring, I was doing casework when I was still in hospital with her."

"I was brought in to induce so I was sitting on the phone answering emails."

After two weeks, Ms Kelly was able to return to the meetings via remote access.

She said, "I knew what was going on, so I don’t want any violins being played, but I would like for things to change for people in the near future."

"In Belfast, there are only 15 women among 60 councillors. That's 25%.

"I believe people are put off because there is no maternity provision."

Ms Kelly will be introducing a motion to council Monday regarding a continuing hybrid working model. She said it had helped people with other responsibilities.

She said that if she was accepted, she would ask the department for paternity and maternity leave.

"A councillor should have the right to resign after the birth or adoption of a child."

She stated that improving local politics would attract young parents to the area and increase the number of councillors.

Laura Devlin, a Newry Mourne SDLP councillor Laura Devlin, has two children since she became a councillor in 2013.

Tom was born in 2016, and Polly in 2019, seven months before the council elections.

She told BBC News NI that she had C-sections with both of my children, but felt the need to go out knocking on doors, with all my literature, and talking to constituents. Then, maybe, heading back to my car to breastfeed again, then going back to the pram.

She stated that she was fully supportive of the plans of the Irish government.

"It is really leading the way in terms that change we all need to see – we need more women politicians.

"If we want talent to come to us, then the conditions must be right. Women have to be supported.

She added that "if we don't act, it remains to be an obstacle for any young lady who wants both to have a family and to get into politics."

She stated that Colin McGrath (the MLA she works for) answered constituent questions when she had her children, but that independent councillors don't have the party support.

"I still put pressure upon myself in terms council votes. She said that if something was happening, I wanted to be there. So I brought my children along to meetings.

Ms Devlin also wants to see remote meetings as a viable option.

She stated that people should be able dial in to participate in meetings if they are in distress.

50:50 NI was founded by Aoife Cllements. It was created to encourage women into politics and make it a better career.

She stated that the absence of maternity leave must be addressed.

She said, "There is a barrier, particularly for younger women who have families or are considering having children."

"You might have a newborn baby, but you still need to attend evening meetings."

She also stated that the 2015 creation and replacement of 26 Northern Ireland district councils by 11 super councils was a problem.

She said, "Councillors are able to live an hour's driving away from council buildings."

"Most people need to take some time to heal from childbirth and to bond with their baby."

Northern Ireland's MLAs are not eligible for maternity leave, but they are paid a salary.

Kate Nicholl (an Assembly member and former Lord Mayor for Belfast), recently gave birth to her second baby.

South Belfast representative called for Assembly members to be granted maternity leave and access to childcare facilities.

After having her first child, Cian, she was back as a councillor after four weeks. She returned to work three months after giving birth to Etain.

She told BBC that it needed reform as it is off-putting for women who want to have children and pursue a career in politics.

The Department for Communities stated in a statement that officials are currently in discussions with representatives of National Association of Councillors (NAC). They discussed a variety of issues including maternity leave.

It stated that during the coronavirus crisis, the department introduced legislation - the Local Government Coronavirus (Flexibility District Council Meetings Regulations (NI 2020) - which would allow councils to meet remotely or hybrid.

"It is up to the council to decide whether meetings will be held in person or remotely. These regulations are still in force."

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