The Dáil has debated a Fianna Fáil bill to extend maternity cover to women members of the House and Seanad.

The legislation would for the first time have given women TDs equal rights to maternity leave as other employees.

On a vote, the motion was defeated by the Government parties.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary said the proposed legislation addresses a serious anachronism and enacting the legislation would widen participation in the democratic process.

He said that only 91 women TDs had been elected since the foundation of the State giving Ireland one of the worst gender balance records in a parliament.

Twenty-five women TDs were elected to the current Dáil while the recent Meath East by-election increased the number to 26.

Mr Calleary acknowledged that his own party did not have a single elected woman in the Dáil chamber.

He said 19 of the 26 women TDs represented constituencies in Dublin or Leinster and a career in Leinster House was incompatible with family life.

Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the working arrangements of the Dail were not flexible.

Mr Ó Snodaigh said it was not a priority bill for the majority of Irish citizens as it affected only a small cohort of society but it was important to send out a message that there was no obstacle to more women and younger participation in the Dáil.

Labour TD Joanna Tuffy said the bill was flawed and she wondered if women ministers would really go on maternity leave in the event of having a child.

She said that as a woman who had a child while she was a Senator, she found her colleagues very supportive and she was facilitated with pairing arrangements.

She said the bill perpetuated the notion that it was all about mothers, and the idea that a woman TD would be paid €92,000 for not representing their constituents did not stack up.

Ms Tuffy recalled looking for a baby changing facility in a disabled toilet in Leinster House, and it was later installed.

She called for the introduction of paternity leave so that women who, for instance, ran businesses could share baby minding with their partner.

She said that the recent intense levels of legislating and consequent late night sittings in recent times did have a severe impact on family life and mental health.

Independent Thomas Pringle said the bill had to be welcomed as part of a wider package of measures to remove barriers to women's representation in political life.

He said the bill was coming against the backdrop of a Government-introduced tax on maternity benefits.

Mr Pringle said the provision for full pay for all members, which is contained in the proposed legislation, would reinforce a sense of privilege and the bill should be looked at in the context of all workers and all women workers.

The intentions of the bill were honourable, he said.

Government Chief Whip and Minister of State Paul Keogh said both parents, fathers and mothers, should be looked after within the pairing arrangements within the House.

He said Government measures on gender balance within the Dáil should ensure that 30% of candidates at the next election are women.

Minister Keogh said he welcomed the bill but the Government had difficulties with it as Dáil representatives were not employees but office holders who did not qualify for welfare payments.

There were issues reconciling that with the Constitution.

There was no provision for non-payment of salaries and allowances during the period a politician held office, he said.

The bill, he noted, did not propose for the temporary replacement of a TD during a period of leave.

On a vote, the motion was defeated by the Government parties.