Belfast Telegraph

Alliance councillor Nicholl brings seven-week-old baby to Belfast council meeting

'More needs to be done for women in politics'

Kate Nicholl and seven-week-old Cian in the council chamber
Kate Nicholl and seven-week-old Cian in the council chamber

By Eimear McGovern

Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl brought her seven-week-old son Cian to her first full Belfast City Council meeting since giving birth.

It wasn't the first time baby Cian was at council business, having attended a committee meeting when he was just four-weeks-old.

Although councillors do not get maternity leave, Ms Nicholl said she was ready to go back to meetings.

“I’m not complaining,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“It’s not a normal job, it’s part time and you fit it around your own schedule.”

However, she said she was considering how she will fit her new commitments as a mother around her role as a Belfast City Council representative for Balmoral in the south of the city with her full-time job in Queen's University.

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Kate and Cian

At the end of last year former Lord Mayor and Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister said she would bring a motion before Belfast City Council to allow representatives maternity leave.

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She said she had been forced at times to take her newborn and toddler to meetings less than six weeks after giving birth. Ms McAllister gave birth to her first son Finn in 2016, while second son Art arrived in November 2018.

Ms Nicholl added: "What Nuala was specifically talking about was recording absences and being able to give maternity leave as the reason.

"So if you miss any meeting, it's just recorded as your apologies but if you've just had a baby, for it to be recorded as maternity reasons.

"I don't know if a specific maternity policy would be needed for me but Nuala wants to look into it in a bit more detail and how we could have a proxy system like Westminster," she said.

"Then you avoid having articles written about how you've missed loads of meetings when you've actually just had a baby."

Last year, the Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy said MPs were being forced to choose between carrying out their duties to their constituents and becoming parents.

Ipsa - the body which regulates MPs' pay - does not automatically provide paid cover for MPs on parental leave.

MPs are paid in full for the whole period.

Ms Nicholl said: "It's difficult anyway being a woman in politics but especially when you suddenly have childcare responsibilities. Because it's a part-time role, most of the meetings are in the evening so it can be hard to find childcare.

"What I'm already thinking about is when I go back to my day job which is full-time, how I juggle a full-time job, my council responsibilities and wanting to spend time with my child.

"I have a very supportive husband but how do you balance it?"

Ms Nicholl said she felt more comfortable at Monday night's full council meeting three weeks on from the first committee meeting she and baby attended.

"I took him to be Strategic Policy and Resources committee last month and he didn't enjoy it so I spent most of the meeting next door trying to calm him down. I actually breast-fed him in that meeting, which soothed him, but I'm a new mum and I was a bit flustered."

She said she's been attending the Belfast Trust breastfeeding support group, which had helped her confidence for Monday night's meeting.

"I had him in a sling and he was quite comfortable. It was a nice meeting - maybe the baby was a good influence," she said.

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