New fathers must stop making excuses and take time off to be with children, says minister

Stock photo

At the races: President Michael D Higgins and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty at Fairyhouse. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

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thumbnail: At the races: President Michael D Higgins and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty at Fairyhouse. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Kevin Doyle

New fathers need to stop making excuses for not taking time off work to spend with their children, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has said.

The Government will today publish legislation which will give up to 60,000 parents the opportunity to take two weeks parental leave from November.

But Ms Doherty has warned Ireland needs to have "a proper conversation about the value of staying at home".

Figures already show around 60pc of men do not avail of existing paternity benefits.

Despite this, Ms Doherty is insisting the additional leave will be a non-transferable benefit, meaning each parent will need to 'use it or lose it'.

The State will pay €245 per week, which may be voluntarily topped up by private companies if their employee is on a higher salary.

The plan is to incrementally increase paternal leave to seven weeks over the next two budgets. It comes on top of existing maternity and paternity leave benefits.

Ms Doherty says the decision to make the payments non-transferable is crucial to stimulating a debate around the roles of fathers.

She said "traditionally caring in the home has been viewed as a female responsibility", but that should not be the case.

"There's a construct here about a narrative that the value of money associated with the scheme isn't enough for men to take off work.

"It doesn't seem to have stopped women from taking maternity leave for time immemorial, because it's exactly the same amount of money," Ms Doherty said.

The minister said some people have argued the low uptake is because women earn less than men, but "lots of women who earn a hell of a lot more do".

Last year, Fianna Fáil put forward legislation to allow new parents to share leave in a way that suits the family situation.

However, Ms Doherty said the 'use it or lose it' basis of parental leave "will help incentivise fathers to take more time off work to care for their children than has been the case up to now".

"I think we need to break down those stereotypical roles, and if more fellas do it, whether it is parental leave or paternity leave, I think that will start to remove the taboo of the traditional role of caring for babies," the minister said.

The general scheme of the bill says parents must take parental leave within 12 months of the child's birth or adoption.

Arrangements are under way in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to ensure the necessary legislation is in place to allow payments to begin in November. Concerns were privately raised by some ministers at last week's Cabinet meeting about the impact the landmark legislation will have on businesses and schools.

The 'Sunday Independent' revealed how Education Minister Joe McHugh warned his department will not be able to cover the financial costs associated with seven weeks' paid parental leave. However, ministers did give the scheme the green light.

The Department of Education and other public sector bodies will be expected to pay employees their full weekly salary - but private companies will not be legally bound to top up their employees' salaries.

A recent study showed almost two-thirds of private companies are not providing salary top-ups to employees who take the statutory two-week paternity leave after becoming fathers.