A Bill to allow for remote voting in the Houses of the Oireachtas has been introduced today by a Fine Gael TD.
Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said it is time the Constitution was modernised to protect a functioning parliament in extraordinary circumstances and that this pandemic has shone a light on the overly restrictive nature of the constitutional requirement to be present for every vote in every circumstance.
The Dún Laoghaire TD said the practical measures proposed in the Bill would also pave the way for maternity and paternity leave for elected representatives.
Deputy Carroll MacNeill said: “We have had lots of talk about maternity leave for politicians. This Bill is part of that conversation and is one of the first steps towards flexible maternity provision for TDs and Senators. At a minimum, maternity or paternity provision requires the possibility of remote or proxy voting.
“It is not my intention, by introducing this Bill, to prescribe the way in which maternity leave for members should be provided. It is horribly paternalistic for us to continue to tell women how to organise their time.
“Maternity leave may look different for each Member of the Oireachtas depending on their circumstances – some may choose to take an extended period of time off, some may choose to continue working as much as possible while staying at home, some may wish to continue working in their office.
“This Bill is just as relevant for the other parent, who should also have the option of voting remotely. They too are needed at home more during this phase, to be with their child and provide support for their partner.
“I am glad today to have the support of my party but particularly Deputies Alan Dillon and Neale Richmond, and Ministers Martin Heydon and Patrick O’Donovan – all of whom have had recently had babies in their families and for whom a degree of flexibility should be acknowledged.
“We cannot change a culture that leaves women behind without approaching everything equally. Parenting is not a gendered issue. Work is not a gendered issue.
“I believe all workers who are parents with young children should be afforded parental discretion, including members of the Oireachtas. It should be the parents’ choice together as to how to spend the weeks and months following the birth, or adoption, of their new baby.
“While the issue of maternity leave is a live one, this Bill is just as important for those members who are or who may become immune-compromised through illness – which can happen to any of us. Failure to provide for people with long term immune-compromising illnesses may also be a barrier to a more inclusive Oireachtas.
“And, though I hope we will never need it, it may be important for the future operation for our parliament in any future emergency.
“This Bill attempts to remove the constitutional barrier, it would then be up to the Houses of the Oireachtas to make their rules for how it would operate”, concluded Deputy Carroll MacNeill.