Paid maternity leave ‘a luxury’

PAID maternity leave was a luxury the country could not afford — even if the proposal did make the then single minister for labour popular with the ladies.

That was the view of a senior official in the department of Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1976 who left no doubt as to his opposition to the idea.

The official, whose signature is unclear, wrote in response to a Department of Labour memo during the Fine Gael-Labour coalition outlining plans to provide all working women with an income for 12 weeks leave.

“I was very surprised to see it introduced into the public service which, traditionally, follows rather than leads outside employment,” he wrote. “To my mind, it is questionable as to whether the extension of similar privileges to the private sector is warranted or, at the present time, appropriate.”

He argued that the move would be discriminatory against women who didn’t work outside the home and who had to carry out normal duties “up until the 11th hour and resume very shortly after the 12th”.

Paid leave was, he said, “a luxury our society cannot afford” and he continued: “The memorandum [from the Department of Labour] seeks to brow-beat us into following other countries by implying that we are not a modern progressive society unless we do.

“The proposal may help to make our bachelor Minister for Labour [the Labour Party’s Michael O’Leary] the darling of the progressive female faction, but I suspect that the over-riding body of opinion — even female opinion — would feel that there are higher priorities for him at the present time.”

He also argued that the plan would place an unfair burden on small firms.

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