Minister dismisses suggestion new parental leave programme 'should be transferable between parents'
A parental leave scheme worth almost €1,000 to new parents has been broadly welcomed - with calls for the scheme to be expanded as quickly as possible.
The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty plans to include a new scheme which would give both parents an extra two weeks' leave each in the first year of a child's life.
The move is worth an extra €235 per person each week, or some €940 per year, to couples who opt to take up their full allowance.
The new scheme is separate from parents' existing entitlement of 26 weeks' maternity leave entitlement and two weeks' paternity leave.
It is the first move towards a scenario where parents will be able to avail of enough State-sponsored leave to stay at home for the first year of their baby's life.
Ms Doherty said she was working hard to ensure that the move was included in her budget for next year in order to bring the scheme online.
The particulars around the scheme, including the conditions attached to it, are still being teased out. She dismissed a suggestion the leave should be transferable between parents.
"Parents in the main want to be with their children and what we are working to do is to make sure they can afford to spend that time with them," she said.
Orla O'Connor, Director of National Women's Council of Ireland, said the fact that the leave was not transferable between parents was "an important recognition of the role that fathers have to play in ensuring a more equal distribution of care between parents".
The leave "will bring Ireland closer in line with the rest of Europe, but this is just the first step," she said. She called on the Government to incrementally introduce paid parental leave up to 26 weeks, "so that parents, mothers and fathers, will have a real option of taking care of their child during the first year".
Meanwhile, the scheme has been described by the Social Democrats as a "baby step in the right direction". The party has tabled a bill to extend unpaid leave.
Councillor Jennifer Whitmore questioned why the Government was so slow to introduce paid parental leave.
"The Government needs to take much bigger strides in addressing the major childcare costs that parents face. Parents are struggling and need support now," she said.