Budget to bring in extra paid leave for new mums and dads
Mothers and fathers to each get two extra weeks to spend with family in first year after baby's birth
New mothers and fathers will each get two extra weeks off work to spend with their baby as part of reforms in Budget 2019.
The extra parental leave, which will be paid for the first time, is expected to run along the same lines as maternity benefit, which is a State payment of €240 a week.
The scheme will offer two weeks for both a mother and father, which must be taken in the first year of a child's life. It is not transferable between parents - meaning both must use their own allocation or lose out.
A source close to Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said it will help parents struggling with childcare before a child's first birthday.
The leave will be in addition to the 26 weeks of maternity leave, two weeks of paternity leave, 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave that must be taken before the child's eighth birthday. The Irish Independent understands the final details are being thrashed out to ensure the eligibility criteria is sound and will encompass as many people as possible.
Sources expect it will not be available until late 2019 at the earliest. As it stands, it is planned to roll out the scheme along the same lines of maternity and paternity leave but will be a separate payment. This means it will need its own IT system and will therefore take time to develop.
The childcare subsidy scheme previously unveiled by the Government also ran into similar issues which led to the scheme being delayed.
The cost to the Exchequer of the scheme will depend on the uptake of it, but it is estimated that it will cost around €10m a year. The take-up of the two weeks' paid paternity leave available to new fathers is currently at about 65pc, which costs around €6m a year.
"Parents tell us that they struggle to get childcare or a crèche before a child turns one so this is a start to bridge that gap," a senior source said.
The scheme will not be mandatory, however it is hoped that the take-up will be improved by the fact that the leave is non-transferable between mothers and fathers.
Introducing paid parental leave has been a key promise of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar since his election as leader of Fine Gael.
Currently, parents can avail of up to 18 weeks' unpaid parental leave until a child is eight, or 16 years old if the child has a long-term illness.
However, there is no obligation on employers to pay an employee during this time.
A bill allowing for up to six months unpaid leave, proposed by the Social Democrats, was not opposed by the Government earlier this year.
Meanwhile, a second bill which would allow for the 26 week maternity leave entitlement to be shared between parents, proposed by Fianna Fáil, is due to be debated when the Dáil returns.
In addition to introducing the parental leave, Ms Doherty looks set to introduce widespread increases to social protection payments including the State pension and Carer's Allowance.
Mr Varadkar told a recent gathering of business people that the Government will this year seek to fully reverse the cuts to social welfare payments made during the recession and exceed them in some places.
Separately, fears that promises of a tax windfall for middle-income families under plans to raise the threshold at which people begin paying the higher rate of tax are not at risk due to a serious overrun in the health budget.
A row emerged at Cabinet last week over an expected €600m overrun in Department of Health spending, sparking warnings from Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe that the overspend will affect the Budget demands of ministers.
However, the Mr Donohoe moved to reassure people that the Government's plans will not be blown off course, telling the Irish Independent: "The provision of additional funding for health will not undermine our planning for Budget 2019.
"I am confident that there will be tax and social welfare improvements included in this year's Budget."
He will continue to hold negotiations with his Cabinet colleagues as the Budget approaches.
Independent Alliance ministers conceded at a recent meeting that their proposed 'granny grant' - a payment of €1,000 to grandparents who mind their grandchildren - "was not a runner".
- Read more here: Nine questions you may have about new maternity leave answered