Paternity benefit to be paid to fathers from next June
The State will begin paying two weeks worth of paternity benefits to fathers from as early as next June, the Irish Independent can reveal.
The measure is a central plank of the Coalition's childcare strategy due to be announced as part of next month's Budget.
There will also be a special focus on reducing the cost of pre-school and after-school care services, especially for families who have children with special needs.
The childcare package will be treated in a similar fashion in the Budget to the reform of the Universal Social Charge (USC).
Specific measures aimed at reducing the burden on parents will be brought in incrementally over the life-span of the next Government.
But sources say there are considerable negotiations still required before an overall package is agreed.
"I am very conscious that we have to cut our cloth to the money that is available to us. We are not going to put at risk everything we have achieved by losing the run of ourselves," said one senior minister.
However, agreement has been reached on the issue of paternity benefit. Sources told the Irish Independent that two weeks will be paid to fathers from the middle of next year.
Meanwhile, Children's Minister James Reilly said reducing the cost of pre-school and crèche facilities for families, especially those with children with special needs, will also be kicked started in 2016. However, he did not specify the form in which benefits will be paid to families.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Dr Reilly said the package would aim to end "poor quality childcare" that can have a "detrimental effect on children".
"But for me as Minister for Children, I wish to be able to make a really solid start in this Budget in relation to childcare support that's affordable, accessible and of a quality that improves the outcomes of children and also addresses some of the needs of some of those with special needs in the pre-school area and also after-care."
The Government's childcare strategy is being shaped by an interdepartmental report unveiled earlier this year.
But Dr Reilly warned that funding restraints means that not all desired measures would be brought in in one swoop.
"Clearly, it can't all be done in one year.
"I don't think that is either plausible nor wise to even attempt it," he said.
"But what we can do is make a strong start and send a very strong message that in this Budget, the first of five more if this Government is re-elected, we will incrementally address the childcare issues through a very clear plan in relation to the areas that are of concern to us."