The Taoiseach has said the Government will do the right thing on calls to extend maternity leave and pay for mothers whose babies were born during the lockdown.

However, Micheál Martin told the Dáil that the issue was not as simple as outlined.

He said the matter was being considered by the departments of Justice, Social Protection and Public Expenditure.

Mr Martin was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who called for an extension to maternity leave and pay by 12 weeks for mothers of babies born during the restrictions.

She said the Programme for Government committed to an extension of parental leave, although she said the language was vague, but that had raised expectations that the Government would act.

Mr Martin said the retrospective nature of the issue may create legal and policy difficulties, particularly for those back at work or on the pandemic payment.

Labour leader Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if Fianna Fáil public representatives are "above the law again".

He listed what he described as "unrest" Mr Martin has faced, including a minister apologising, and asked what example the "old style of 'cute-hoor' politics" gives to the public.

The Taoiseach said he did not accept Mr Kelly's analysis of the first week of Government, and added that his focus has been "unwavering".

He said the amount of legislation the new Government wants to get through the house is "unprecedented".

Mr Martin said "other stuff goes on, as it always has in politics, and we will deal with that too", but he said the Government is focused "on the people".

He said "no politician is above the law and no politician should be above the law, and in respect of Minister [Barry] Cowen, punishment was meted out in respect of his transgression four years ago".

The Minister for Agriculture made a statement in the Dáil where he outlined the circumstances around the ban for drink-driving he received in 2016. 

Mr Martin also said that the nursing home sector was not adequately prepared for the pandemic and a lot of lessons had been learned.

He said changes need to happen on governance and there must be more clinical oversight.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy raised the case of Ultan Meehan, who died in hospital just over two weeks after being admitted there from Kilbrew Nursing Home in Co Meath and asked that his wife would receive a report completed by HIQA or the expert panel.

Mr Meehan was taken to hospital with a facial wound that had become infested.

Mr Martin said the case was shocking and deserves a very comprehensive response.

He said Mr Meehan's wife should get a report and that the situation was very worrying.


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People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett raised the issue of 1,500 former employees of Debenhams, who, he said, have been picketing since April following the closure of the retailer's stores.

He said the test for Mr Martin's Government is how working people will fare.

In response, Mr Martin said he thinks "Debenhams have treated the workers very poorly and in a very shabby way".

He said work will commence in terms of examining the overall company law situation with a view to reducing the capacity of companies to deny workers their entitlements.

The Taoiseach said it was "particularly regrettable" that the closure happened in the middle of Covid-19, but added that he did not want to "raise expectations" and the issue was very challenging and complex.