Government accused of U-turn on plans to extend parental leave
A row has erupted over plans to extend unpaid parental leave to 26 weeks for all parents, with the Government accused of an 11th hour U-turn on the proposal.
Under current laws, parents are entitled to take 18 weeks of unpaid leave until a child turns eight.
But a proposed change to the law, tabled by the Social Democrats, would see this entitlement extended to 26 weeks to be taken up until a child turns 12.
Co-leader of the party Róisín Shortall accused the Government of a U-turn on the legislation and urged it to "come clean" on why it has decided to oppose the measure.
The bill has few remaining hurdles to be cleared and was due to go to committee stage in the Seanad when the Government confirmed it would be opposing the bill ahead of the Dáil recess.
The Social Democrats have issued an appeal to the Government to allow the bill to be introduced in the Seanad, citing cross-party support which could see the law in place by Easter.
"It's something that parents right around the country are crying out for, it's desperately needed to provide that flexibility to enable parents to juggle their family responsibilities and their careers," Ms Shortall said.
She accused the administration of "clutching at straws" over its "umpteen excuses" for its change of heart and questioned if the Government was reluctant for another party to take credit for the move or if it was facing pressure to oppose it.
She dismissed claims that pre-legislative scrutiny is needed, saying the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is tasked with making the call on such scrutiny, had determined it was not necessary as it extends existing legislation.
But a Government spokesperson said there are concerns about the bill in a number of areas, including the need for any extension to the existing entitlement to be phased in.
Previously, Junior Equalities Minister David Stanton said that the Government would not be opposing the bill, but urged pre-legislative scrutiny of it.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: "If this had occurred, it would have allowed all stakeholders to scrutinise the proposed legislation and to report on any policy or legal issues which may have been identified."
The Government "is open to further discussions on this proposed legislation", the spokesperson added.