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talks ongoing Government scrambles to avoid Helen McEntee having to resign as minister for maternity leave

The minister's baby is due in May and she intends to take six months' leave.

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Helen McEntee (Julien Behal/PA)

Helen McEntee (Julien Behal/PA)

Helen McEntee (Julien Behal/PA)

THE Government is scrambling to find a way for Justice Minister Helen McEntee to take maternity leave without having to resign temporarily or stand aside when her baby is born.

The minister's baby is due in May and she intends to take six months' leave.

Her announcement is seen as a hugely positive example for women in leadership roles and politics.

However, there is no provision for a politician to take maternity leave, not least a Cabinet member in a sensitive portfolio like justice minister.

With just weeks until Ms McEntee is due to take maternity leave, urgent discussions are under way to find a solution.

The unprecedented situation has arisen as no minister has ever had a baby while in office.

Several Government sources told the Sunday World the options being examined include Ms McEntee's duties being reassigned to other ministers at Cabinet - or her being replaced by a junior minister.

To have Ms McEntee remain officially in her role during her leave would present clear legal difficulties.

But to reassign her duties, the minister would likely have to stand aside as justice minister, while still remaining a Cabinet minister.

And to fully replace Ms McEntee, even temporarily, she would have to resign fully as justice minister and from Cabinet.

Talks are ongoing to find a solution that does not involve Ms McEntee having to resign.

However, this solution is unclear at the moment.

She is among the most senior positions at Cabinet and among the key roles under the law is being briefed on urgent security matters by the Garda Commissioner.

But the portfolio also carries a range of other legal duties that cannot be carried out by another minister.

Legal experts say it has to be clear in the eyes of the law that there is one justice minister, and who specifically holds the role.

On the prospect of Ms McEntee having to resign, one senior Government source said: "That won't happen."

"There may be a scenario where her powers are vested in another minister and junior ministers act up," they added.

"That would be one solution."

But other sources say that all the options are still on the table.

One Fine Gael source admitted that it would not look good for the coalition to be in a situation where a woman who was having a baby was having to stand aside from their ministerial job.

But they acknowledged that a specific person would be required to take the justice minister role.

"Who does Drew Harris ring on a Friday night when he hears a subversive group is planning an operation?"

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Attorney General Paul Gallagher and Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Martin Fraser have all been involved in talks with Ms McEntee for several weeks to find a satisfactory solution.

A spokesperson for the justice minister said: "All going well, Minister McEntee will take a period of maternity leave to care for her baby and is working with colleagues in Government to finalise how this can be done."


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