Chair of Bar Council praises Minister McEntee’s fight for childcare rights during NUIG conference

by Caroline Spencer

Four leading figures of major State justice bodies have called for comprehensive maternity leave in their professions at an NUI Galway event.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, Deputy Garda Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon, Chair of the Bar Council Maura McNally and 2020 President of the Law Society Michelle O’Boyle spoke of the barrier to public life faced by women due lack of facilitation for childcare by employers. They agreed that a lack of childcare supports has a detrimental effect on the ability of women to join public life.

Photo Credit: Law Society of Ireland

The event marked International Women’s Day 2021 in a virtual conference held by the Law Society of NUI Galway.

Minister McEntee repeatedly said “You can’t be what you can’t see,” when discussing the low levels of female political representation in Ireland.

Women make up barely a quarter of political roles in Ireland.

“Maternity leave is something I would like to be able do in a couple of weeks time,” said Minister McEntee, currently seven months pregnant.

Minister McEntee is in a constitutional struggle with the Government over her impending maternity leave. Minister McEntee, whose child is due in May, will be the first Irish Cabinet Minister to give birth. Under the current guidelines, public office holders have no right to maternity leave.  

Senior Counsel McNally praised Minister McEntee for bringing to light the issues over maternity leave for government employees.

“People realised that no previous Taoisigh, previous Ministers, they did not look for maternity leave, I don’t remember Éamon de Valera looking for maternity leave…but thankfully you have brought it to the fore. It’s time that in the year 2021 there is a recognition that our female leaders in the Oireachtas would require maternity leave.”

“Child rearing is still left in this country to the remit of women, yet women are trying to advance themselves and their career, but society, generally run by men making decision doesn’t seem to reflect the fact that they are reliant on 51 per cent of the population to assist in the decision making…they must introduce equality in respect of childcare,” said Ms McNally.

Elsewhere in the conference, Commissioner McMahon praised the strides towards diversity in the force. “An Garda Síochána should represent the society it serves,” she said. She referred to her early years in the force, feeling less like the “token woman” due to the support of her male colleagues.

Ms O’Boyle also stressed the strides made in the legal profession towards gender parity. Currently in Ireland 53 per cent of solicitors are women, well above the European average.

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