New dads will soon be able to avail of paid paternity leave in a "long-overdue" move by the Government.
A new bill, due to be published today, outlines state support for fathers of €230-a-week for two weeks, which they can take at any time in the first six months of their newborn's life.
The Government plans to extend paternity leave beyond two weeks "as resources allow", but the initial payment will be available to new fathers from September if the bill passes through the Dail before the summer recess.
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar yesterday launched the bill to mark Father's Day at Farmleigh House in Dublin.
"It is long overdue... but it's an important step forward," he said.
"During that period (of leave) the Department of Social protection will pay €230-a-week to the father in order to support them. Some employers will top that up. Others won't."
When Minister Varadkar was asked if Ireland would ever see parents being able to split parental leave as they see fit, which is the case in some European countries, he said maternity leave would always be important.
"I think it's important that we have dedicated maternity leave, for medical reasons. A woman needs to recover from pregnancy. You always have to make provision for that," he said.
Fathers who adopt and same-sex couples will also be able to apply for the paternity leave. There will also be room for a sensitive approach in tragic cases, such as a stillbirth, a neo-natal birth or the death of a parent.
The benefit will also apply to self-employed people.
Minister Varadkar said there would be mechanisms in place to stop fathers who work for themselves applying for the benefit without taking the time off.
"There is always a risk when it comes to any benefit that fraud can occur and there are measures to avoid that. In reality, men who are self-employed - and 80pc of people who are self-employed are men - they always had the right to leave because they are self-employed, but by and large they don't because of loss of income.
"The big difference with the paternity benefit is that it does give them a guaranteed income. Hopefully, that will tip the balance of more self-employed dads taking that extra time to be with their kids," he said.
"It's a good thing for dads, for families and for society."
Meanwhile, the Minister confirmed that he planned to abolish the €20 charge to register stillbirths. It is not required by law to register a stillbirth, but many people do.
"I'm preparing a statutory instrument to waive that charge, in the first instance in relation to stillbirths. Then subsequently, although that's going to take a bit more legislation, in the case of a neo-natal death," he said.