New dads still slow to claim paternity leave as payouts dip
The number of paternity leave payouts dipped by 10pc last year with take-up among dads remaining slow, new figures show.
The county-by-county breakdown of paternity leave claims comes as Government plans to sign off soon on a two more weeks' paid parental leave for each parent.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty is persisting with plans to introduce the additional leave as a non-transferable benefit, meaning each parent would need to use it or lose it.
There are various approaches to paid parental leave across Europe, with some countries allowing the leave to be shared as each family sees fit.
The leave will be in addition to existing paternity and maternity leave and it is planned to build up the leave in the coming budgets to seven weeks per parent.
The scheme is expected to be on stream in November - families who have children ahead of the introduction date are not expected to be able to avail of the additional leave.
Two weeks' paid leave has been available to new dads since 2016, but the latest figures show that there is a significant disparity between the number of fathers claiming paternity leave and the number of babies born each year, pointing to a slow take-up among dads.
The data shows that the payments to dads dropped in 2018 compared to the previous year.
A county-by-county breakdown, obtained by the Irish Independent, shows that in 2018, 24,080 paternity leave claims were made - compared to 26,599 the previous year.
A large number of dads in Dublin claimed the two weeks' paid leave after the birth of their children - 6,906 claims were made by fathers in the capital last year.
In Cork there were 3,104 claims, while in Galway there were 1,388 claims lodged.
The lowest number of payouts were in Leitrim (174) and Longford (191).
The overall cost of paternity benefit last year was €16m, while for maternity leave it was €264m.
Previously, the Government had mounted information campaigns to boost uptake of paternity leave among fathers.
Asked about the drop in paternity leave payouts, a spokesperson for the minister pointed out that the number of births also fluctuates every year which accounts for the change and said the birth rate dropped last year.
There is no overall figure yet showing the number of births in 2018, but in 2017 some 62,053 births were registered, pointing to a low take-up of the benefit among fathers.
"The idea behind the parental leave scheme is to make lives easier for families.
"The minister would encourage fathers in particular to avail of the benefit [of parental leave]. It's important that in the formative years both parents - where possible - be at home with their children," Ms Doherty's spokesman said.
Between January and March this year, there has been 7,149 claims made for paternity leave.
The spokesman said the Government had been "encouraged" by the take-up rate in recent times.
Separately, it is hoped that legislation to up the amount of unpaid leave available to parents will be passed by the Oireachtas by the end of this term.
The bill, which the Government has supported, would see unpaid parental leave increase from 18 weeks to 26 weeks for all parents with children under eight years.
The Government has said the change must be phased in to allow businesses to prepare for it.