Bonus pay for couples if they split parental leave
Parents will be able to split up to 12 months of State-supported parental leave, under proposals being discussed by Government to address the childcare crisis.
The plans - which will be welcomed by thousands of parents - would also see mothers and fathers given bonus paid weeks off work if they agree to split parental leave.
The high-level discussions come as Tanaiste Joan Burton pledges to introduce two weeks paid paternity leave for fathers by the end of the year.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ms Burton said: "Childcare is one of the most important issues facing families in Ireland at the moment, next to the cost of mortgages and acquiring a house."
The extension of paternal leave is among a number of wide-ranging ideas being considered by a working group tasked with making childcare more affordable for parents.
The inter-departmental group is examining the impact childcare cost has on the labour market and the country's worrying levels of child poverty.
The landmark review plans to outline proposals for increasing resources for children with special needs and streamline after school care services.
Experts believe extending maternity leave will reduce the cost of providing childcare and result in more beneficial early childhood development.
Research suggest the low level of breastfeeding in Ireland is linked to women not being able to work from home.
Maternity benefit is paid to the employed and self employed based on PRSI contributions. Last year, the State's maternity leave bill came to almost €270m.
Under the current system, women are entitled to 26 weeks' paid maternity leave and an additional 16 weeks' unpaid leave.
Men are not entitled to any paid leave but some employers give fathers time off work.
This can be either paid or unpaid as it is entirely at the discretion of the employer.
A senior Government official admitted the country's paternal leave system is at "lower end of the scale" and needs to be examined.
"A year is what we know from research is good for kids to be at home. At the moment we are at half a year so you might be looking at trying to cover some of that distance," the source said.
"What some systems do they say 'here's a period of paternal leave, you guys decide if you want to split it up'. You have these minimum periods but you say 'guys split it up and actually if you split it we'll give you a couple of extra weeks' to encourage that sort of sharing," the source added.
The inter-departmental group is also examining the possibility of extending the free-school year project.