Taoiseach Micheál Martin has been forced to defend Government proposals to extend parents' leave by three weeks amid criticism that they don't go far enough to support new mothers affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
The Government has been accused of "undercutting" previous ambitions to extend parents' leave next year. It also faced a claim that it's "utterly bizarre" to suggest that the measure could happen after October's Budget when "mothers need assistance now".
The Government is proposing to provide new parents with extra leave to recognise the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The plans were revealed by Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman on Monday and would see new parents get a total of five weeks' leave each with State support of €245 a week.
The extra three weeks would apply to the parents of all children born since November 1, 2019, thus covering parents affected by the pandemic lockdown.
Parents would be able to avail of the leave within two years of the birth of their child.
The proposals come in response to a Sinn Féin motion seeking a temporary extension of maternity benefit from six to nine months for mothers whose claim expires between the start of March and the end of November.
Ahead of last night's Dáil debate on the motion, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald claimed the Government plans are "too little and too late".
"Those new mothers and families that need the additional breathing space and support of 12 additional weeks for maternity leave and benefit need action now. They're not in a position to wait," she said.
Ms McDonald asked the Taoiseach to "do the right thing" and support her party's motion.
Mr Martin defended the Government's plans to extend parents' leave by three weeks insisting the proposals are "substantive and significant".
He said parents who had a new baby during the pandemic will be eligible to take the extra leave.
Mr Martin said that Sinn Féin's proposal to extend maternity benefit by three months would have required further "complex" legislation.
Earlier, Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore claimed the Government was "undercutting" a previous target of providing an extra five weeks of parents' leave in 2021.
She pointed to the last government's 'First 5' strategy for care for babies and young children.
The First 5 implementation plan includes an ambition that parents' leave would be increased to seven weeks per parent in 2021, taking into account the "financial and resource considerations by the Government".
Ms Whitmore argued that in only extending the leave to five weeks, the coalition is "undercutting what was previously agreed" and claimed it's "a really bad start for the Government".
Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane criticised the wait until October's Budget for the Government's proposals to be considered as "utterly bizarre".
The Department of Children last night said the additional three weeks' leave will "help parents spend more time at home with their kids" and that parents of babies born during the pandemic will also benefit.