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Paternity benefit is all very well, but will m en ignore bosses and take it up?

FOR a country supposedly devoted to the welfare of the family we have never concerned ourselves too much about the role of fathers in the rearing of their children, have we?

In Ireland care of the kids would seem to be 'women's work', as evidenced by the fact that fathers don't even merit much of a mention in the Constitution.

We're also one of the very few European countries who do not offer any form of paid paternity leave.

So, we should all have been delighted at the news that the government are considering legislation that will introduce paid paternity leave to Ireland. Welcome to the 21st century and all that.

Except, of course, this being Ireland it's just not that simple, is it?

Minister Kathleen Lynch announced yesterday that her department was considering allowing mothers to gift some of their 26 weeks statutory maternity leave to their partners if they so wished.

Gift? What does that mean? Well, according to the minister, it was never the intention that any proposed paternity leave would be taken from the mother – without her consent.

This doesn't mean however, that the new proposed payment for fathers (or partners) is additional though. Instead, it will be taken from the mother. She just has to agree to that.

Which seemingly leads to other problems.


Minister Lynch said she was expecting a report on this issue by the start of this year but now it probably won't be ready until the end of the year. Seemingly it's "complicated".

Why? Because, according to the minister, the mother's partner may not necessarily be the father of the child.

Lynch said that same sex marriages and surrogacy and "all of that" was complicating the issue and consequently it was proving difficult to pin anything down.

I mean, wouldn't it be awful, she said, if someone got paternity benefit and wasn't interested in looking after the child at all.

Forgive me my cynicism if I suggest that this is all just an exercise in box ticking.

Firstly, most mothers need all of their maternity leave – if not more of it. It's been a hard enough fight trying to get 26 weeks of statutory leave to risk some of it being taken back.

Secondly, unless paternity leave is compulsory, many men will feel pressurised by employers not to avail of it.

Particularly if they work for blokes like Michael O'Leary who is "driven mad" by the "notion of paternity leave". He has also been quoted as saying that men who want to stay at home with their newborns are just feigning interest.

Thirdly, Lynch said that she is in informal discussions with employers and women's groups (not men's groups too?) to work out the details.


Now it's likely that many SME's will run screaming from any proposition that they may have to pay out any extra benefit. They just can't afford it.

Some of them already shy away from hiring what Mark Fielding of ISME once called "buxom young women of child-rearing years".

Why? In case they get pregnant and take maternity leave.

Alan Sugar once noted that prospective employers aren't allowed to ask a woman outright if she's planning on having a baby soon. So, to be on the safe side, they simply don't employ them.

So, if we're serious about equality legislation what we need is paid, compulsory leave for both parents (or designated carers) of "child-rearing years".

We need a policy toward parental leave that is provided by the Government and is not dependent on the generosity (or lack of it) of a particular employer.

Which, considering the current state of the economy and societal attitudes is just not going to happen.

In the meantime, regardless of all the talk, I'll lay bets that nothing will change.