Sunday 16 June 2019

Eamon Delaney: 'This has been no country for young fathers'

Moving with the times: Horses bringing bales of hops to the Guinness brewery at St James's Gate, Dublin, in the early years of the 20th century
Moving with the times: Horses bringing bales of hops to the Guinness brewery at St James's Gate, Dublin, in the early years of the 20th century

Eamon Delaney

So exhausting and stressful was the arrival of my first-born child that I really relished that pint of Guinness at the end of a draining day. So I had a fond smile when I heard that the makers of the black stuff, Diageo, are offering new fathers six months' paid paternity leave.

The plan is that men working for the famous brewing brand would be entitled to 26 weeks off on full pay when they have a baby, matching the maternity benefit paid to women. It could make for a potential game-changer for workplace equality.

Early child rearing is a time which goes quickly - too quickly for many - and so the days (and broken nights) have to be savoured for those lucky enough to experience them.

Let's be honest, there are few things more fundamental in the world as the creation of human life - which you have created! - and the continuation of our species.

The proposal is also a sign of how things are changing in terms of work and employers' responsibilities. The sweeping populism in Europe is not only against the erosion of traditional values and national identity but also against globalisation and the dominance of big companies. It is a protest at how these companies seem to control us with market saturation, and increased job demands.

These big companies do very well out of our open society and open markets and it's time they put something back. It's also time they did more to alter the 'life to work' balance which has become too much about work in recent years.

Alcohol companies have a particular social responsibility here, given the social impact that drink has on our societies, most of it good, but much of it bad as well.

Diageo seems to have woken up to these requirements and scored a nice PR win too. As a company which also sponsors international rugby, this is the equivalent of a sweet drop goal.

Some disapprove of the continuing sponsorship of sports by alcohol companies, of course, so Diageo needs to be mindful of public opinion.

The State has also been making progress in this area.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty got criticised last month for saying there were now no excuses for men being at their partner's side, arguing the new offer of two weeks' leave at €245 by the State removed the financial imperative for men not to take paternity leave.

However, the reality is that the current cost of mortgages, rents and childcare often makes it mandatory for parents to work. Childcare costs are a particular cruel irony. You have to work harder to pay for the time spent away from your children. It must seem sometimes pointless.

Nor is it helped by the ill thought-out nature of the State's changes to its early childcare supports.

Because of the success of the Government's free pre-school programme for three to five year olds, parents now face a severe shortage of crèche places for babies and toddlers. At least the new increased paternity leave is a more planned and intentional way to keep parents with their very young children.

But it is about time business and Government woke up to their responsibilities to the young, and to treating the father with more respect in terms of being there when a child is born.

So the drinks giant is showing the way. But it is of course much easier for a behemoth with good profit margins. It is more difficult for small businesses and retailers, who should be supported in adopting measures like this, especially as they are not helped by the State in so many other areas.

Across Ireland, retailers and small businesses are being hit with rate hikes, and soaring insurance costs which are endangering restaurants, community events and childcare facilities. So they need to be cut some slack and supported in matching Diageo on this measure.

As it is, we hear little about our small business woes in the Dáil, especially in contrast to the support for the public sector or our growing welfare culture. Or, of course, our big business sector which is well looked after and has a 12.5pc corporate tax rate.

However, it is great that both the large and small business communities have woken up to the changing demands of family and work. But most of all to our society's responsibilities to our young.

We are supposed to cherish the family unit, according to our Constitution. But hitherto this has often been no country for young fathers.

Michael O'Leary shocked many by apparently quitting his Gigginstown stud because he wants to spend more time with his children.

His are young kids, as opposed to new-borns, but it is the same principle. Life is short and the time when your children are young is even shorter so we need to make the most of it.

So I'll be toasting Diageo in memory of those first weeks of parenthood and for letting other parents, and children, sample more of that precious time.

Irish Independent

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