The Government shouts loudly about helping working mothers, closing the gender pay gap, and supporting the career progression of women, but it is blocking simple measures that could make a real difference.
When you wade through the launches, press releases, and glossy information packs, there is often little substance behind the spin.
Many were baffled when Social Protection Minister, Regina Doherty, blocked a common-sense proposal to allow mothers to share the current, 26-week maternity leave (it had majority support in the Dáil).
Even more baffling were the reasons put forward for rejecting the Shared Maternity Leave and Benefit Bill, 2018, which Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers described as ranging from “the sublime to the ridiculous.”
Dismissing the bill, which would especially benefit self-employed women, who often feel they wouldn’t have a business to return to if they took the full entitlement, Ms Doherty said she believed there would be little interest in it. Worse still, the minister claimed that the measure could put vulnerable women in even more jeopardy, as “maternity leave will become a commodity that is subject to negotiation within couples and between a woman and her employer.”
Shared leave has now been introduced in a number of European countries, including the UK, and robust legislation would ensure that mothers are not pressured, but can make decisions that work best for them. A similarly dismissive tone was taken by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, yesterday, when he was asked about sharing-out of maternity and parental leave. “We had a good look at both of those issues and the direction of policy is that there should always be a dedicated maternity benefit; women give birth to children and that does create a difference. There is a need to get through a pregnancy and recover from it, so, I think, there will always be a need for a dedicated maternity leave,” the Taoiseach said.
Yes, Mr Varadkar is a qualified medical doctor, but suggesting that every mother needs a full six months to recover from the birth of a child seems farcical. For self-employed women, six months away from their business is a luxury they could never afford.
Mr Varadkar was speaking at the launch of the national childcare scheme and it seems the Government wanted to create a buzz around it (a bumblebee was printed on the package of documents that journalists received).
But Labour’s Seán Sherlock later said that the event was “just a launch about a launch, with nothing tangible for parents or providers”.
Detail was also lacking on Sunday, when Mr Varadkar turned up to launch the Future Jobs Ireland 2019 plan, which included a vague target to “deliver a new female entrepreneurship strategy”.
Perhaps the Government might want to think of what happens when those female entrepreneurs decide to
have a family.