Maternity Protection (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill amends the Maternity Protection Act 1994 by making a number of improvements to its provisions which protect employees who are pregnant, or who have recently given birth. The Bill implements the recommendations made by the working group on the review and improvement of the maternity protection legislation. The working group, which reported in January 2001, was set up in accordance with commitments in the Government action programme for the millennium and the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. It was chaired by my Department and included representatives from all pillars of social partnership, relevant Departments and the Equality Authority, etc.

The previous Government had no hesitation in accepting the recommendations of the working group in full and the principal recommendations to extend the duration of maternity and additional maternity leave were immediately implemented in 2001. The remaining recommendations which require primary legislation to amend the Maternity Protection Act 1994 will be implemented by the enactment of this Bill.

The latest social partnership agreement contains a package of legislation, codes and programmes in relation to workplace relations and environment. This package of measures aims to protect employee rights, ensure greater equality, promote health and safety and bring about a better work-life balance. The improvements to the maternity protection legislation now proposed are clearly consistent with each of these aims and provide clear evidence of the Government's commitment to fully implement the new partnership agreement.

Work-life balance initiatives are important, not only in the context of assisting employees in combining employment and personal responsibilities, but also in underpinning social and equality objectives. It is imperative, therefore, that we meet the challenge of developing innovative measures which reflect the reality of today's workplace and the personal and social responsibilities which employees encounter.

The increased number of women in the labour force has been one of the main contributory factors in our economic growth which allowed the economy to expand without being stifled by major skill shortages. In 1994, the female labour force participation rate was 39%. According to the latest CSO figures, it is now almost 49%. Furthermore, the EU Presidency conclusions on equal opportunities and social inclusion in Lisbon and Nice in 2000 set a target of 60% employment for women by 2010, and an interim target of 57% by 2005. Complying with these targets will mean a further increase in the number of women of childbearing years in the labour force.

Our economic climate is, in itself, a driving force in addressing obstacles to women's participation in the labour force, particularly in skilled employment. Employers do not want to lose trained and skilled women and are looking at ways of retaining them in employment. The need to ensure continued economic growth is putting the employment and the retention of women in the workforce at centre stage. This is not only an equality issue but also an economic one.

Recent statistics show that of the number of women currently in Irish employment, over 62% are aged between 15 and 45 – the ages roughly corresponding to childbearing age. There were 29,042 maternity benefit payments awarded to employed or self-employed women in 2002. In all, 60,521 children were born in 2002. It is imperative that our legislation recognises the valuable contribution made by working mothers and provides support for them in the workplace.

Maternity protection is a fundamental right of any pregnant employee and one which has been enshrined in our legislation since 1981. It is somewhat disappointing therefore that over 20 years later, pregnancy discrimination, and in particular pregnancy related dismissals, remain a significant issue in the workplace. In the Labour Court last year, there were five determinations issued in 2002 where pregnancy was cited and the court found that discrimination had occurred in all five cases. Employers were ordered to pay substantial financial compensation and this should act as a deterrent to pregnancy related discrimination, particularly in its more subtle forms. This sends an unequivocal message to employers that such discrimination will not be tolerated.

This Bill provides that an employee who is absent from work on additional maternity leave shall benefit from all employment rights associated with the employment – except remuneration and superannuation benefits – such as seniority and annual leave entitlements. In addition, all employment rights shall be unaffected during an employee's paid absence from work to avail of new entitlements under this Bill to paid time off from work to attend ante-natal classes and to breastfeed. I shall detail these new entitlements later, which incidentally will require regulations to be put in place after the enactment of the Bill.

The Bill contains new entitlements for breastfeeding mothers, who often experience particular difficulty in returning to work after the birth of a child. It is internationally recognised that breastfeeding is the most beneficial method of infant feeding. In their global strategy on infant and young child feeding, the World Health Organisation states, "Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants." The strategy cites paid maternity leave, part-time work arrangements, on-site crèches, facilities for expressing and storing breast milk, and breastfeeding breaks as enabling conditions for women in paid employment to continue breastfeeding.

The Bill brings Ireland closer to international provisions for breastfeeding mothers. Section 8 provides that an employee who is breastfeeding, and who has informed her employer that she is doing so, shall be entitled until the child is four months old either to breastfeeding breaks, where facilities for breastfeeding are provided in the workplace, or a reduction of working hours, without loss of pay in either case. This important and new statutory entitlement will facilitate breastfeeding mothers on their return to employment.

The important health advantages of breastfeeding more than justify the introduction of these provisions. These advantages are maximised when breastfeeding is sustained for longer periods. Research commissioned by a number of health boards shows that returning to work can influence the decision of Irish women to cease breastfeeding. For example, in a study commissioned by the Midland Health Board in 2000, 30% of respondents gave "returning to work" as the reason for ceasing breastfeeding.

Although the research evidence on the value of breastfeeding, for both mothers and babies, is compelling, the incidence of breastfeeding in Ireland continues to be among the lowest in Europe. The Government recognises that breastfeeding of infants and young children provides one of the best opportunities to give children a good start in life. The national health strategy aims to strengthen measures to promote and support breastfeeding and identifies key areas for action in order to re-establish a breastfeeding culture in Ireland. One key action is to promote, support and protect breastfeeding in homes, schools, workplaces and in society generally.

Research from other EU countries which provide similar facilities is encouraging. In Sweden, rates of exclusive breastfeeding at four months have climbed from a low of less than 20% in the mid 1970s to almost 70% in 1997. An additional 15% are partially breastfed at this stage. These figures are high by international standards, despite significant female participation in the workforce. This has been attributed to, among other family friendly initiatives, the provision of paid breastfeeding breaks during a working day for all breastfeeding mothers.

During the course of the review, the working group examined work-related barriers to breastfeeding. It concluded that the length of leave available at that time to mothers who wished to breastfeed was restrictive and there was a very short time period in which to establish an effective breastfeeding pattern. Shortly after the conclusion of the working group's deliberations, the recommendation to increase both the period of maternity leave and additional maternity leave was implemented by means of secondary legislation. Both the entitlement to maternity leave attracting a payment, and the optional unpaid additional maternity leave, increased by four weeks, bringing the overall entitlement to 18 weeks maternity leave and eight weeks additional maternity leave. This Bill incorporates the increased leave entitlements which offer mothers the option of up to 22 weeks post-confinement maternity leave and the chance to establish an effective breastfeeding pattern.

Provision of paid time off for attendance at ante-natal classes was also considered by the working group. The Institute of Obstetrics, which was consulted on the matter, was of the opinion that a pregnant woman needs to attend one complete set of ante-natal classes in the interest of her health and safety during the course of pregnancy. Ante-natal classes form an intrinsic part of the ante-natal care package, particularly in a woman's first pregnancy. The 1994 Act provides, in accordance with regulations, for time off without loss of pay for ante-natal and post-natal care. The current definition of ante-natal care does not include ante-natal classes. In line with one of the recommendations of the working group, section 7 of this Bill provides accordingly.

During the pre-confinement stage, fathers can offer invaluable support to expectant mothers. Therefore, we are introducing a section which gives expectant fathers a once off entitlement to time off work, without loss of pay, to attend the last two ante-natal classes in a set of such classes.

While the overriding purpose of the review was to enhance the protections available to employees who are pregnant or who have recently given birth, the working group took account of the costs to employers of its recommendations. The recommendation to increase the maternity leave periods, which was implemented in March 2001, would have incurred the most cost for employers and the Exchequer. Some of the other provisions of the Bill will have minor cost implications for employers. Employer costs will be incurred in the provision of paid time off to attend ante-natal classes, the provision of either breastfeeding breaks where breastfeeding facilities are provided or a reduction of working hours and the preservation of certain employment rights while on additional maternity leave. The benefits of the recommendations, not only to employers but to the economy in general, were also considered. As I mentioned earlier, incentives which can assist in keeping women in the labour force are beneficial to employers and the economy generally.

The working group also considered the concerns, as expressed by female employees themselves, in relation to combining pregnancy and caring for new-born babies with work commitments. In particular, they consulted a report, New Mothers at Work, commissioned by the Employment Equality Agency and published in 1999, which documents the difficulties experienced by 30 women in combining motherhood and the demands of the workplace. A strong theme which emerged from this research was that women interviewed wanted to stay in the labour force, but felt inadequately supported by legislative and other measures in exercising their preferred choice. It is hoped that the provisions of this Bill can help alleviate this problem by providing the necessary support to mothers returning to work after childbirth.

I will now outline the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 is a standard provision dealing with interpretation. Sections 2 and 4 incorporate Statutory Instrument No. 29 of 2001 which gave effect to the working group's recommendation to increase the periods of maternity leave and additional maternity leave. The implementation of the recommendation to increase both the period of maternity leave and additional maternity leave, as mentioned earlier, has been in effect since March 2001. The implementation of this recommendation was fast-tracked ahead of the implementation of the other recommendations to ensure that the benefits of the increased leave entitlement would be realised as soon as possible. It is a widely held view, supported by leave arrangements in several other countries, that the best interests of infants under 12 months old are served where they remain in the direct care of their parents. The provision of 18 weeks paid leave entitlement with the option of four weeks additional unpaid leave means that Ireland is now in a favourable position when compared with many other EU member states. Sections 2 and 4 of the Bill provide that the Minister may by order extend the periods of maternity and/or additional maternity leave.

Section 3 safeguards an employee's entitlement to the extended minimum period of 18 weeks maternity leave where premature births are concerned. Section 5 provides that in the event of the sickness of the employee, an employer may agree to the employee's request to terminate her period of additional maternity leave. Once terminated, the employee shall not be entitled to take the remainder of the additional maternity leave at a later date. Any absence from work due to sickness following the termination of the period of additional maternity leave shall be treated in the same manner as any absence from work of the employee due to sickness.

Section 6 provides that in the event of the hospitalisation of the child, an employer may agree to an employee's request to postpone her maternity leave and/or additional maternity leave and allow her to return to work on an agreed date. It will only be possible to postpone maternity leave where the employee has taken at least 14 weeks maternity leave, four of which are after the end of the week of the birth. This may appear to be overly restrictive, but we are constrained by the Pregnant Workers Directive which provides for a continuous period of 14 weeks maternity leave. Where the employer agrees to a postponement of maternity leave and/or additional maternity leave and where the employee has adhered to certain notification requirements, the employee shall be entitled to take her postponed leave in one continuous block, which will be known as resumed leave. The resumed leave must commence not later than seven days after the discharge of the child from hospital. In the case of the employee's absence from work due to sickness during the period of the postponement, the employee is deemed to have commenced their resumed leave unless they opt to forfeit the right to resumed leave. The absence from work due to sickness shall be treated in the same manner as any absence from work due to sickness.

Section 11 of the Bill applies similar provisions to fathers in certain circumstances. It should be noted that a father's right to leave under our maternity protection legislation is not constrained by the directive, which did not refer to fathers. Therefore, in the event of the hospitalisation of his child, a father may apply to his employer to postpone the commencement of his leave or where he has already commenced such leave, he may apply at any time to postpone such leave and temporarily return to work. Upon enactment of the Bill, regulations will be put in place to govern the detailed operation of the postponement provisions with respect to the maximum period of postponement of leave and the evidence to be furnished to the employer of the hospitalisation and the discharge from hospital of the child.

I have already given a broad outline of the provisions included in section 7, which deals with the issue of attendance at ante-natal classes, and section 8, which provides for entitlements for breastfeeding mothers. Entitlement to paid time off from work to attend one complete set of ante-natal classes does not include the last three classes in such a set as ordinarily these are attended during the employee's pre-confinement maternity leave.

It can sometimes be the case that a pregnancy does not go to full term because of premature birth. In such cases, the mother may not have availed of her entitlement to attend a complete set of classes and hence section 7 provides that the set of classes may be attended during one or more pregnancies. In other words, she can carry them forward to future pregnancies.

The entitlement provided in section 8 of the Bill to facilitate breastfeeding mothers in the workplace is in line with the recommendation of the working group. The Bill provides that employees are entitled until the child is four months old either to breastfeeding breaks in the workplace or a reduction of working hours, without loss of pay. Employers shall not be required to provide facilities for breastfeeding breaks in the workplace where the provision of such facilities would give rise to more than a nominal cost. Where breastfeeding breaks are not provided, the employer shall be required to agree a reduction of working hours with the employee without reducing pay. As with the entitlement to attend ante-natal classes, it is necessary to balance the rights and obligations of both employees and employers. In this case, a workable statutory entitlement for breastfeeding mothers in employment has been framed. The detailed arrangements will be introduced shortly by way of regulation.

Section 9 incorporates the father's existing statutory entitlement to leave where the mother dies during the period of her maternity leave. Consequential amendments are provided to deal with a situation where the father's leave under section 16 of the 1994 Act is postponed or terminated or where the mother's leave was postponed or terminated prior to her death.

I have already referred to sections 10 and 11 which apply corresponding provisions to fathers as provided to mothers under sections 5 and 6, which deal with the termination and postponement provisions, respectively. Section 12 amends the definition of protective leave in the 1994 Act and provides that the period of leave taken prior to postponement and the period of resumed leave after postponement shall be treated as separate periods of protective leave. Protective leave encompasses maternity leave, additional maternity leave, leave to which a father is entitled under section 16 of the principal Act, whether or not any of such leave types are postponed under this Bill, and leave granted in respect of health and safety considerations and night work.

Section 13 is primarily concerned with employment rights and provides an amendment to the 1994 Act to provide that employees absent from work on additional maternity leave will be treated for the purposes of all employment rights, other than remuneration and superannuation benefits, as if they remained at work. This provision also applies to employees absent from work for the purposes of attending ante-natal classes or breastfeeding in accordance with this Bill. In effect, this means that time spent on such leave will be counted as service for the purposes of calculating increments, annual leave and seniority.

Employees who avail of the new entitlements in relation to ante-natal classes and breastfeeding are afforded protection under sections 14 and 15 with respect to the termination or suspension of their employment. Section 16 is a technical amendment to clarify that the provisions of the 1994 Act regarding periods of probation, training and apprenticeship apply to both female and male employees who are absent from work on protective leave. Section 17 strengthens the provisions relating to the return to work of an employee who was on protective leave to give effect to the 2002 Gender Equal Treatment Directive. An employee returning to work from protective leave will have a statutory entitlement to any improvement in the terms or conditions of the employment to which she or he would have been entitled if she or he had not been absent on protective leave.

Section 18 applies to employees who return to work on the expiry of protective leave and are offered suitable alternative work, as the resumption of the work which they carried out before their protective leave is not practicable. In such a case, the terms or conditions of the alternative work shall not be less favourable to the employee than those of her contract of employment immediately before protective leave. Employees in this position are also entitled to any improvement in the terms or conditions of the employment to which she or he would have been entitled if she or he had not been absent on protective leave. This section gives effect to the 2002 Gender Equal Treatment Directive. The remaining sections in the Bill deal with technical amendments to the 1994 Act.

This Bill is part of a wider package of statutory worklife balance measures to which my Department is committed under the Sustaining Progress partnership agreement. Yesterday, the Government approved the drafting of amendments to the Adoptive Leave Act which will apply the appropriate outstanding recommendations of the maternity protection review group to the adoptive leave legislation. It is the Government's intention to incorporate the necessary amendments to the adoptive leave legislation into the Bill once it passes to Committee Stage. Furthermore, the parental leave legislation is also due to be amended in line with the agreed recommendations of the working group on the review of that Act.

The Government has also provided a financial commitment of more than €436 million funding for my Department's Equal Opportunities Child Care Programme 2000-2006 to facilitate the development of a well structured and high quality child care service to help parents to meet their child care needs and to enable them to remain in or return to employment, training and education. The increased maternity leave entitlement applied in 2001 alleviates, to a degree, the demand for high quality affordable child care for babies under the age of 12 months. This complemented the equal opportunities child care programme which aims to increase the supply of child care places by 50% over the seven years of the programme and early indications show that these targets will be met.

I look forward to the contributions of the Senators on this legislation which will improve the rights of expectant parents, employees who have recently given birth and breastfeeding employees. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to discuss this important Bill, which aims to improve maternity protection for employees. The Minister of State acknowledged the large number of women who have contributed, and who continue to contribute, to our economy. However, he has missed a valuable opportunity to improve the position of working parents. Ireland is far behind other countries in terms of maternity protection provision and the Bill fails to address many problems in this area.

The Bill contains a number of worthwhile provisions. Section 6 provides for the postponement of additional maternity leave if a child is hospitalised, while, under section 7, expectant mothers can attend one set of ante-natal classes without loss of pay. It also provides fathers with the right to attend the final two ante-natal classes with paid leave. The legislation also provides that an employee's absence from work on additional maternity leave will count for all employment rights associated with the employment, seniority and annual leave. These provisions are necessary and welcome.

However, I am concerned about a number of aspects of the legislation. Section 5 relates to the determination of additional maternity leave if the mother falls ill but it may be in breach of Directive 92/85 on pregnant workers. The section provides that where a woman falls ill on maternity leave, such leave will be terminated and her illness will be treated as sick leave, as would be the case with other employees. This is as it should be but a difficulty arises in that when the mother recovers, section 5(4)(b) states, “The employee shall not be entitled to the additional maternity leave or the part of it not taken by her at the date of such termination.” This is illogical and absolutely unjust. There is no reason to prevent an employee from availing of the balance of her maternity leave, which had been suspended because of her sickness. It is an unfair provision, which I hope the Minister will address. I will table an amendment in this regard on Committee Stage.

Section 8 relates to breastfeeding breaks. While I welcome the recognition of the benefits of breastfeeding and that facilities should be provided for mothers who breastfeed, the legislation falls short in terms of what should be provided. Giving legislative backing to breastfeeding-lactation breaks to mothers in the workplace for four months after giving birth will have little impact. As the Minister of State said, the vast majority of women will still be on maternity leave four months after giving birth. This provision will never come into effect because most parents will take maternity, paternal and unpaid leave.

The legislation addresses the recommendations in the report of the working group on the review and improvement of maternity protection legislation, which was published in January 2001. At the time, maternity leave entitlement was 14 weeks paid leave and four weeks unpaid leave. The Department of Health and Children's national breastfeeding policy recommended that all women should be encouraged to breastfeed for at least four months but, in the intervening period, maternity leave entitlement has been extended to 18 weeks paid leave and eight weeks unpaid leave. The Department's optimal infant and young child nutrition policy has changed and mothers are recommended to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and continue breastfeeding thereafter in combination with solids for up to two years and beyond. The legislation will be outdated even before it is passed into law because these changes are not taken into account.

As we attempt to promote breastfeeding and provide for it in legislation, we need to examine what has happened in other countries and learn from them. Ireland's breastfeeding rate is among the lowest in Europe. We could look to other European countries for good practice. For example, the breastfeeding rate in the UK is 69%; Switzerland, 92%; Norway, 99%; Sweden, 98%; Austria, 96.4%; Spain, 85%; and Italy, 85%. Ireland is way behind in terms of the number of mothers who are breastfeeding. We are not doing enough to promote breastfeeding and the results are obvious.

I refer to the legislative cover for breastfeeding-lactation breaks in European countries. Ireland is also well behind in this regard and the Bill will not improve the position. The breastfeeding rate in Austria is 96.4% and mothers are entitled to one 45 minute break for every four hours worked. In Norway, where 99% of mothers breastfeed, two hour long breaks are provided daily and in Italy, where 85% of mothers breastfeed, two one hour breaks are provided for up to seven months following childbirth. The breastfeeding rate in Spain is 85% and a one hour break is provided for each day or the working day is shortened by 30 minutes up to nine months following childbirth. The legislation does not address the issues faced by mothers.

Furthermore, greater provision should be extended to all mothers, whether they are breastfeeding. For example, there could be two working women in an office, one of whom breastfeeds her child while the other bottle feeds. It would be grossly unfair if the breastfeeding mother was entitled to leave the office to feed her child or to work a shorter day while the bottle feeding mother would have to remain in the office. All mothers and babies must be treated equally. It must be recognised that some women have difficulty breastfeeding. What about mothers who adopt children? The broader picture must be examined.

I have great difficulty with the lack of obligation on employers to provide facilities for mothers and their babies. When will this issue be addressed? The Bill is too light on employers. If more women are to be encouraged into the workplace, this issue must be addressed. Family friendly policies must be adopted. There is no serious intent in the legislation to make it mandatory on employers to provide breastfeeding facilities in the workplace. The reduction in working hours is not defined and, therefore, it is virtually meaningless. How much time should be provided for mothers to breastfeed? How many times a day can they breastfeed? If they are to take shorter working hours because there is no facility for the baby in the building or its vicinity, what is the extent of the shorter working hours the Minister is suggesting? What constitutes a reduction in working hours? If this is not included in the Bill, employers will decide for themselves what they should provide for mothers.

I am extremely disappointed with this Bill. The Government had a great opportunity to make changes, to move forward, to try to come into line with some of our European partners. We have missed that opportunity and the problems have not been addressed. While there are some provisions that I support, the nuts and bolts are not in place and the Government has not moved forward to provide for working mothers and fathers. Therefore I will not support the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I was interested to hear some of Senator Terry's comments, which I will address at the end.

I hope today, 28 May, will be an historic day for maternity protection in this country. We have moved considerably from Ireland of the past. In the times of the Vikings and Norsemen there were invaders who killed and raped our fathers, sons and mothers. During the Famine, mothers starved themselves to feed the family first. In the "modern Ireland" up to 1972 there was a marriage bar. Contraception was not available and it was necessary to get on a train and travel to Northern Ireland to buy a packet of condoms. Then we made some great changes and it was possible to go to a doctor and get them on prescription. We did not have equal pay until the 1970s. Although some people are beginning to break through it, the glass ceiling still exists. In 1984 maternity leave was introduced.

With due respect to the Minister of State, I listened with some amusement to his speech. To measure the value of women in terms of their contribution to the economy and the need to facilitate them sometimes concerns me. This represents one of the difficulties I have with Government policy in this area. There was a car bumper sticker, which stated: "Be nice to your kids because they pick your nursing home." It is time for us to ensure we provide the best type of facilities for mothers bearing the children who will look after the future of our country.

When the maternity legislation was introduced in 1984, a very different scenario pertained. No other regulations existed to protect pregnant women then and things have changed greatly now. At that time there was probably some wise old man in the Department of Justice who felt it was important to oblige women to take at least four weeks off before having their babies in order to protect them as much as possible. A woman entitled to 14 weeks maternity leave must take four weeks before having the baby. Nobody thought about the fact that many babies do not arrive on time and can come two weeks late.

It is possible to imagine a scenario where a woman goes on maternity leave four weeks before her confinement date because she has to. If her pregnancy goes to 42 weeks she will have been sitting at home – perhaps twiddling her thumbs because it might be her first baby – for six weeks. When the baby comes, she finds she has to go back to work much sooner than she intended. She would have preferred to have had all that time after the birth. Some people have said that to change that would take away women's rights.

When this was reviewed in 1991, an amendment was put to the then Minister whose response was as follows:

Under the existing 1981 maternity legislation, the minimum period specified is four weeks before and after the birth. The general wisdom is that to remove this requirement before birth would be a reduction in protection and contrary to the directive.

The directive in question was 92/85/EEC, the pregnant workers' directive. The working group report stated:

Arguments in favour of a reduction of a pre-confinement period to two weeks were supported by the number of queries on the subject received from the Employment Equality Agency and the Equality Authority. In the light of the pregnant workers' directive, some members of the group felt that a two-week compulsory period before the confinement would generally serve the needs of pregnant women. It was considered that there is ample evidence of this, both in terms of queries dealt with by the Employment Equality Agency and particularly in view of anecdotal evidence that many women submit medical certificates with incorrect confinement dates, which means that in effect they only take two weeks before their confinement.

I can confirm that this anecdotal evidence is factual. The majority of women applying for maternity benefit put false dates on their application forms because they want the time off after the baby is born.

The Minister stated that in 2002, some 29,700 women made applications for maternity leave. The majority of those women wanted to have the time available to them afterwards and they want the right to choose. I am being told that someone in the EU has decided that to change this would remove a right from Irish women and that they must take four weeks before confinement date. Do they not understand we are the mothers and we are talking about our bodies and our babies? Do they not understand we are the best people in association with our doctors to decide when we will take that maternity leave? The only right that has been taken from us is the right to choose.

I will continue to make the case that the four weeks is not a defined right but a frustrating regulation. We only need to ask the women what they want to do. Anybody here can ask his wife, sister or mother what she put on her application form. What do the officials in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform put on their application forms? I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not here, because I had this discussion with him when he was Attorney General. He accepted this is what the women are doing, but he felt it could not be changed. However, we can change it and I sincerely hope we will not allow this opportunity to pass.

If women are healthy enough, should we not be allowed the right to choose whether we want to take two, three, four or 14 weeks before having a baby? Our system is forcing expectant mothers to put unusual dates on their maternity leave benefit forms. Did it never strike anybody that Ireland might have the highest rate of premature babies in the world? All our babies come two weeks early, based on the social welfare certificates, because women are declaring confinement dates two weeks later than the expected date.

We have the right to choose. We need to say "No" to Europe. We should get the faceless European bureaucrat to come here and listen to what the women of Ireland want and let us determine whether it is safe for us to continue to work. If the compulsory four week period before the confinement date were eliminated, I know of no employer who would put pressure on a woman, 36 to 38 weeks pregnant, to work longer. The most important thing for a woman having a baby is the health and safety of that child. Even if the employer is putting her under pressure, the woman will stand up for the health of her baby.

I accept that the advice of the Attorney General was sought and it was to the effect that we should not take away a right. However, we want to enhance the right. We want to recognise and regulate for what is happening. The Minister can do so within this legislation. I do not want to tell the women of Ireland that Europe says nothing has changed since 1984, that they must take the four weeks, that it is their right and that Europe does not want to take that right away from them. The message is that we want the right to make the choice. Tell the Attorney General's office we need to go back to the EU and tell it what we want. We want the right to choose, which we have sought through history. I hope the Minister of State will look at this issue. He is responsible for equality and he should decide this is correct.

Things have changed and we have new health and safety protections in place. If someone is in danger while pregnant, the health and safety legislation for maternity protection comes into effect. The situation has changed since this legislation was introduced in 1984. We can make this happen because it is common sense and it is what people want.

I hope the Minister of State returns on Committee Stage with an amendment that removes the pre-confinement regulation and allows this to be a matter of choice. Two weeks appear to be what most people want. Over 29,000 women, partners and doctors are filling in forms that do not tell the truth. We want the right to choose. I hope the Minister takes up this battle on all fronts and comes back to the House to tell us the change people sought has been made.

I want to paint a picture for the House. It might be a stretch for Members but they should imagine a female Taoiseach of 37 who is having a baby. If the baby comes in the middle of a confidence vote or during deliberations on the Finance Bill, what is that female Taoiseach to tell the country? What will she say to her doctors? "Hurry up, I have to get back to Leinster House to vote" or "Doctor, you have to come to Leinster House to deliver my baby there". Oireachtas Members and paid local councillors have no right to maternity leave. What are we saying to the women of Ireland? All political parties come out with claptrap about wanting more young people and more women involved. However, we do not even provide the basics such as breastfeeding breaks – what a laugh.

I brought my two babies from Galway to Dublin on a daily basis to feed them. I took a hotel room in Buswell's Hotel and stole offices from people here to breastfeed them. Why? It was not because I would not have been generously paired by the Opposition, as I would have – it was the principle. I had no right to stay at home with my baby in Galway. Breastfeed for 20 weeks – what a joke. If one is a Government Member one's place is here and one is expected to vote. If a woman is a member of a local authority and it comes to Estimates, nobody will have much sympathy if she says she cannot vote because she is in hospital having her baby.

This is another challenge for the Minister of State. Where can we insert a provision in the legislation dealing with this issue? It is not a political issue but an equality issue and I hope we can deal with it. Let us think of that female Taoiseach having a baby and let us make sure the facilities are in place to ensure she does not have to leave the delivery room to come back to vote in Leinster House. We must create a mechanism which allows her vote to be registered in those special circumstances.

Politics is a difficult game and if we want to encourage more people into it we must do something about this. This is our first time to examine this legislation in some years. Though I do not know the technicalities of drafting the Bill, it should be possible to provide a simple regulation to cover a situation where a female Member of the Oireachtas or local authority member is entitled to register their vote and take appropriate maternity leave.

I sometimes find it difficult to look critically at legislation which seeks to create a better balance between work and life. I accept Senator Terry's point about creating divisions between women who are breastfeeding and those bottle feeding but her suggestion will not work from an employment point of view. I run a business with many female employees and I know how difficult it is. Providing breaks for people who are bottle feeding as well as those who are breastfeeding may not be practicable or workable but perhaps we should think about it.

I do not mean to be critical of the Minister of State but I take grave exception to one of his comments: "The increased maternity leave entitlement applied in 2001 alleviates to a degree the demand for high quality affordable child care for babies under the age of 12 months." That is not the case. It has certainly helped but as soon as one becomes pregnant in Ireland, one must go on a waiting list for a crèche place unless one has other supports. We need to do more in this area. I accept all that has been done, including the fine contribution of the Minister of State and his Department. However, no one in the Department should think that the need for high quality affordable child care for babies has been alleviated to a degree, as it has not.

Hear, hear.

I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

I propose to share my time with Senator O'Meara.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill, which is timely. Many different groups in society have negotiated on this issue and I have always felt that we are behind the game regarding maternity provisions. In particular we have been behind Europe. One of the solid reasons for the support of the trade union movement for the second Nice treaty referendum was the feeling that many groups, particularly women, were looked after better by governments reacting to the demands of European directives than acting of their own volition. That goes back to the equality legislation of 1977 and all that has happened since.

I support the case Senator Cox made and her final point is the real issue. Every time I am at a meeting where maternity issues are discussed, the meeting quickly goes on to child care. The Government takes the wrong perspective on this, looking on it as either a cost or a support. Anyone looking at the whole structure of employment in society recognises we need more women in the workforce. That is not a feminist view but the view of anyone taking a clear view of society. The importance of having women at decision-making levels in society is hugely important. They lose out because of the natural consequences of childbirth and there are aspects of that which cannot be addressed or compensated for in any way, but we must look at this issue in other ways.

The lack of progress in making available affordable child care is appalling. There should be choice in that area, with a combination of nurseries, preschools, crèches and other facilities open to parents. Parents should feel they have made safe, secure arrangements for their children. When they drop their babies off in the morning at crèches, nurseries, playgroups, preschools or primary nursery schools, they should feel those are safe environments for their children, with all the proper supports. That is true of recognised establishments. I regularly meet people who have to make compromise arrangements with which they are not completely satisfied.

Another issue to which I wish to refer – I raised it on each occasion the House has discussed maternity protection since I became a Member and prior to that in the context of earlier maternity legislation – is the idea which some, obviously male, bureaucrats have that women can produce babies like boxes of chocolates at Christmas and on the correct date. It is absolutely appalling. These people are definitely not living in the real world. I wonder if their spouses or partners have ever had children, if they have ever been present at the birth of a child or if they know what is involved in terms of the delivery of children, who can be up to a fortnight or more late in arriving or who can be born prematurely. All sorts of things may happen.

The idea to which I refer is ridiculous and is based on the ignorance of people who believe that women can produce babies to a set timetable. It forces people to be dishonest. People applying for maternity leave pick a date – which they may not believe to be correct, but which is later than the due date and which suits them – in order to ensure that they do not have to leave work too early. It does not make any sense. It is a small matter and it should be changed.

I generally support the introduction of the Bill.

While I welcome the provisions of the Bill, I agree with Senator Terry. It is our position that the Bill does not go far enough and, therefore, we will not support it on Second Stage.

The Minister of State pointed to the advances that have been made in this area, but it is worth recalling that, to a large extent and until the onset of Celtic tiger economy, this country had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of social protection, particularly for women employees. I refer here not only to maternity protection, but also to equal pay and a range of social protection measures in that regard. While these were welcome improvements, as Senator O'Toole and I have stated – particularly in respect of the Nice treaty, etc. – women voters are aware that many of the benefits that were gained in recent years came about by virtue of our participation in the European Union. As already stated, however, we had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into line with the European model.

The Bill shows that the Government is still very much in the mode of minimalism. Quite minimal provisions are contained in this legislation and when one compares the situation here to that in the rest of Europe, one can see that we still have a long way to go with regard to time off and parental leave. Breastfeeding is an obvious example and the provision contained in the legislation allows for four months. However, the Department of Health and Children recommends that the minimum period for breastfeeding should be six months. If a working mother wants to return to work and is breastfeeding, the Department of Health and Children states that she should breastfeed for six months. However, the legislation states that she will only be allowed to do so for four months. This is another example of disjointed Government. The Minister of State should extend the period to six months. We will propose that he does so by way of amendment, to which I hope he will give serious consideration, on Committee Stage.

The Minister of State said that female labour force participation now stands at 49%. In recent years, in particular, there has been a spectacular increase in the number of women in the workforce. That only happened because women are needed in the workforce. There was rarely any real encouragement for women to join the workforce until such time as employers needed them. The result has been the introduction of individualisation into the tax regime and the paying of much lip-service to female labour force participation. I clearly recall that in the 1980s, when women were fighting for much better social protection and provision, few people were calling for women to leave the home and join the workforce. We would never have seen anything like tax individualisation emerging at that stage.

Another issue I wish to raise, to which other Members referred, is child care. The slow manner in which the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which has responsibility for this area, has come on board is indicative of the lip-service the Government pays to issues of this nature. On one hand, it wants women in the workforce, but, on the other, it makes matters really difficult for parents. The problems really start when children go to school. It is easier to have a child in a crèche from morning until evening. It is when children finish school each day at 1.30 p.m., 2.30 p.m. or 3.30 p.m., or have days off, half days, etc., that difficulties arise. Parents need access to a flexi-time system such as that which operates successfully in the public service. More widespread flexi-time is needed and parents need access to high quality affordable child care which has within it flexible arrangements such as an after-school service.

The majority of parents make their own arrangements. They have to do so because public provision is minimal. It continues to be minimal because the Government has the same attitude to child care that it has to care of the elderly, namely, that one should make one's own arrangements. Although the Government wants women in the workforce, it is not really concerned about assisting them to negotiate the difficult early years or about recognising that there are times in child rearing when flexi-time and parental time are needed for a variety of reasons. I refer, for example, to years when children are obliged to sit State examinations. My son sat his leaving certificate last year and a parent needs to be present when the examinations are taking place. They also need flexibility. I am sure the Minister of State will say that what I am seeking is only possible in an ideal world, but if we do not aim for it, we will never achieve it.

The principle underlining our public policy should be family friendly. I was interested in what Senator Cox said in regard to female public representatives and maternity leave. I am sure Senator Cox and other parents, particularly mothers, will agree that ours is the most family unfriendly professions in which to be. The political establishment has absolutely no intention of making it anything other than that. I will be interested to hear the Minister of State's response to the query raised by Senator Cox, which was valuable and which gets to the core of the issue.

If we want women in politics, we must recognise that there are particular issues which need to be addressed head on. I have discussed this briefly with Senator Cox in the past. I congratulate her on her commitment to this issue and to being a politician and a parent. I know about the difficulties involved, although my children are not as young as those of Senator Cox. Politics is a most family unfriendly profession because of the hours worked, the times of meetings, etc. One is expected to put aside one's role as a parent or as a member of a family for the public good. Let us face it, there are times when one asks oneself why one does so.

A minimalist approach has been taken in the Bill. We will table an amendment in regard to the breastfeeding provision, in particular, because far more needs to be done than simply paying lip-service and taking a minimalist approach.

I welcome this opportunity to give my support to this important Bill and I thank the Minister of State for coming before the House.

The Bill amends the Maternity Protection Act 1994 to give effect to the outstanding recommendations of the working group on the maternity protection legislation which were published in February 2001. When it is signed into law, Ireland will have some of the most progressive legislation governing maternity and parental leave in the EU. The Minister of State and his Department must be congratulated on bringing forward this important and timely legislation.

Unfortunately, there is a culture of fear among some women when it comes to informing their employers that they are pregnant and of their rights in respect of maternity leave. Even more shocking is the fact that some employers believe that they can sack a pregnant employee – simply because they are expecting a baby – and get away with it. We were reminded of this only a few months ago when a brave teenager in my constituency took her employer to the Labour Court for unfair dismissal. She was dismissed after informing her employer that she was pregnant. I am delighted that she won her case but it is unfortunate that she was forced to take it to the Labour Court.

Ireland has had legislation in place for many years governing the protection of the rights of pregnant women in the workplace and guaranteeing maternity leave. Unfortunately, there is still a small number of employers who believe they can flout the law and dismiss their employees at will. I hope the new Bill will further strengthen our maternity legislation and send out a strong message to employers that the rights of expectant mothers and new parents are protected by law and must be adhered to.

I hope the legislation will give pregnant women in the workplace a greater sense of security. The aforementioned case of the Kildare teenager is certainly not an isolated one. Half of all queries made to the Equality Authority last year concerned pregnancy. Many women are frightened of informing their employers that they are pregnant because they fear dismissal and forced changes to their job descriptions and that it might negatively affect their promotional opportunities.

The Bill deserves the support of all political parties. It recognises that both parents in most households work outside the home and the need for new mothers to return to the workplace as soon as their period of maternity leave expires. It recognises that pregnant women at work and new mothers returning to work need support, accommodation and flexibility from employers with, most importantly, no consequent loss of pay.

The legislation is timely given that the latest studies show the number of births is hitting a 15 year high, with 60,500 babies born last year. Significantly, 40% of births were to first-time mothers, which represents the highest rate since statistics were first compiled. The Bill recognises the pressures facing parents in the workplace and provides that expectant mothers can attend one set of ante-natal classes without loss of pay. It recognises the need to give fathers flexibility and gives them the once-off right to paid time off to attend the two ante-natal classes immediately prior to birth. The Bill also recognises the increasing number of women who choose to breastfeed and the need for employers to be flexible and accommodating in this respect by allowing for either an adjustment in working hours or breastfeeding breaks.

As I said, the Bill, when enacted, will enhance our maternity protection. It leaves employers in no doubt as to the protection afforded to pregnant women and new mothers under the law. It copperfastens and strengthens the rights of employees. I commend it to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State. I was delighted to hear Senator O'Toole comment on the Bill because I wanted to get a male perspective on it. I found myself out of my depth. I welcome the legislation. As Senator Kate Walsh stated, it amends the 1994 legislation and affords new protections to those in employment, women in particular. That has to be good. I know there have been some negative comments on the extent to which it affords such protections but any improvements in the protection of employees in the workplace have to be welcomed.

The legislation was formulated as a result of a commitment given by the Government in An Action Programme for the Millennium and the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. The review published indicated that there was a broad base of contributors involved in finalising the legislation, not least the social partners. We probably felt the Bill would get the seal of approval in the workplace because they were involved. I am sure they would not have signed off on it if they had not been satisfied that it would bring about better conditions for employees.

Without doubt, the provisions of the Bill allow for greater flexibility, better planning and less hardship for those husbands and wives starting families. Those of us who reared our families in the 1970s and 1980s, without any legislative protection, good, bad or indifferent, know the hardships suffered in those decades. There is no doubt in my mind that many good people, women in particular, were lost to the workforce and the economy because they had to leave their jobs prematurely. The most noteworthy example of this, to which Senator Cox referred, was that women had to leave the Civil Service when they married, often long before they decided to start a family. My wife suffered in this respect. It led to one less pay packet entering the household and an additional mouth to feed. Those were tough times. We have made much progress since. In some people's eyes, progress may be slow but, nonetheless, we are moving in the right direction.

The legislation will afford benefits and protection to employees who wish to start their families and will allow them to do so in a structured way, thus ensuring they will not find themselves worse off financially. Ideally, there should be more crèches, especially in public places. The fact that there is none in Leinster House is probably an indictment in itself. I am told one has been promised for some years but I am not sure what progress has been made on it.

There is no doubt that workplaces with crèche facilities are attractive for those who want to return to work or those already at work who experience difficulties in having children cared for in crèches outside their workplaces or who depend on grandmothers or grandfathers to do so. Employers with crèches are in a position to encourage past employees to return to work or encourage others into the workplace whom they might not be able to employ otherwise.

I read that an EU member state has a target of attaining 60% female participation in the workplace by 2010. It is so confident that it will achieve this target that it has an interim target of 57%, to be attained by 2005. This constitutes a fundamental transformation in social roles. The Government, through the changes proposed in the Bill, has obviously recognised the need for a more family-friendly employment policy to enable working husbands and wives to reconcile their working lives with their family lives.

It is only in recent times that we were lamenting that we did not have enough people in the workforce. I recall the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, saying we needed approximately 100,000 additional employees. We had to go as far as the Philippines when there was a scarcity of nurses. I once worked in the Central Remedial Clinic in Clontarf. Three years ago it would have been hard-pressed to find employees from outside Ireland, with the possible exception of England or Wales. Now it has employees from Canada, South Africa, Australia, Sweden, America, Croatia and Spain, to mention but a few. This has happened within the past three years or so. Any improvements that release more people into the workplace have got to be welcomed.

Section 6 is excellent. It allows for the postponement of maternity leave or additional maternity leave in the event of hospitalisation of a child. There is probably nothing more harrowing for a woman, having availed of maternity leave, additional and otherwise, than to find herself unable to look after a child who may have gone into hospital towards the end of her additional maternity leave. The fact that leave can be postponed at some point when the mother receives an indication of the need to do so is good.

Is the entire Bill binding on all employers, big and small? Small businesses, especially specialised businesses where a husband and wife might be involved, might find great difficulty if both maternity and parental leave was being allowed for. In a business with five or six employees the absence of a woman for 22 weeks could create quite a problem.

Senators Cox and Terry referred to the provision for four weeks ante-natal leave. I know of very few women who leave work four weeks prior to giving birth. I know of a young woman who left her employment last Friday and had her baby that night. Section 7, which suggests that employers allow time for one set of ante-natal classes and that a woman attend the others during her maternity leave, cannot be adhered to in most cases. Must an employer inisist on a woman taking four weeks leave? If she remains at work and something happens during that four week period, could her employer be sued?

In what circumstances would a woman need additional time off for breastfeeding? As the legislation allows 22 weeks leave, a woman will have 18 weeks left after her baby is born. If, as I am led to believe, a woman breastfeeds for four to six months, then time for breastfeeding is allowed within the framework of her entitlement. Even allowing for breastfeeding after that period, how can one regulate for breastfeeding breaks? I do not think one can legislate for when a child is hungry. If a baby is breastfed at 7 a.m. and needs to be fed again at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. how can this be provided for? One cannot block breastfeed.

Section 13 deals with the loss of superannuation benefit. Does maternity leave constitute a break in service? I presume it would be dealt with on the same basis as someone going on a year's leave of absence when one is still an employee and service is not broken.

I wish the Bill well. It is a decent Bill, one which legislates in the right direction for women in the workplace.

I thank everyone who contributed to the debate and welcome their contributions. Senator Terry raised a question about section 5 regarding additional maternity leave being terminated in the event of illness. My advice is that the provision to allow an employee to transfer, with the consent of the employer, from additional maternity leave to sick leave in the event of the woman's illness does not contravene the pregnant workers directive. The mother remains fully entitled to 18 paid weeks maternity leave. This cannot be terminated. The Bill proposes that the employee may choose to transfer from unpaid additional maternity leave to sick leave and that choice will, obviously, be made when it is to her own advantage. That is the intention of the section.

Senator Terry and others raised the question of the four month period given for breastfeeding. At the time of the review of the 1994 Act the working group recommended a period of four months. We are going on that recommendation. However, a resolution on infant and young children's nutrition was adopted at the World Health Assembly in May 2002. It approved the World Health Organisation's global strategy on infant and young child feeding which recommends, "As a global public health recommendation infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimum growth, development and health." In the light of this recommendation the Department of Health and Children is reviewing its breastfeeding strategy which may well have implications for amending the Bill on Committee Stage.

Senator Terry also said there was nothing in the Bill to oblige employers to provide breastfeeding facilities. The legal position is that an employer is obliged to provide a breastfeeding facility where that will impose no more than a nominal cost on him or her. That is not the Government's decision. It is a decision taken by the Supreme Court under Article 43 of the Constitution which protects private property. The Supreme Court has ruled that one can only place social obligations in the public interest on private property owners where no more than nominal cost will be incurred. I can get details of the judgment for the Senator if she wishes.

Senator Terry is right when she points out that the reduction of working hours is not defined. It will be defined in the regulations which will shortly follow the Bill. This is one of those matters which must be provided for in some detail by way of regulation. The regulations will be complex and it is in them that the nuances will be worked out.

Should the House not have some input?

In theory, yes. We are having some input in that we are passing the legislation which enables us to make regulations to provide for this. I do not want to add another 30 or 40 pages to primary legislation with matters more appropriate to regulations. I will inquire whether the regulations can be debated in the House and communicate with the Senator.

I thank the Minister of State.

With regard to Senator Cox's point about the pre-confinement period being fixed at four weeks, I agree with Senators O'Toole and Kett and everyone else who has made this point. However, the Attorney General's advice is that to reduce the period of four weeks would be contrary to Article 1.3 of the relevant European directive. We are members of the European Union, from which we have derived many benefits. Much of our social progress is due to our EU membership. We have derived huge economic benefits. We are subject to European directives and cannot pick and choose among them. All I can say is that I will have the matter looked at again.

Can European directives be amended? Can we ask the European Union to look at this directive and amend it?

As I understand matters, a European directive cannot be amended.

Things have to change.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senators will have a chance to put those points on Commitee Stage.

The advice of the Attorney General is that, while we would love to change this, legally we cannot do it. I will have the matter looked at again.

Senators O'Toole and O'Meara dealt with the provision of child care facilities. The Government fully recognises the need for an increased number of affordable child care places and has committed €436 million to the equal opportunities child care programme. This commitment was renewed in the new social partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, under which a partnership sub-committee was provided for to consider recommendations on how to improve the availability of quality child care services for working parents, and how the supply of pre-school and after-school child care places could be accelerated. Rather than not doing enough with regard to child care, the Government has committed an enormous amount of taxpayer's money to the area. Over the period of the Government plan, we are talking about €436 million to fill a certain number of places. It looks like the target will be met.

I live in the real world and I am aware that one could provide many more places with that amount of money. The difficulty is that one cannot have corner shop arrangements whereby someone is free for a couple of hours in an afternoon to provide child care, with someone else coming in at other times. There must be appropriate safeguards. If parents are going out to work, their children, the future of the country, are entrusted to people to look after their welfare. One cannot do this on anad hoc basis. I decry the fact that child care does not seem to be sufficiently flexible. I would like more flexibility. Unfortunately, because of the situation mentioned, there is a limit to flexibility in this area. We hope the relevant working group will come up with recommendations to enable us to provide more child care places for the money we are spending.

Senator Terry claimed that the Government had missed the opportunity to greatly improve workplace rights for working mothers. The Government put in place a review board comprising members from all interested parties, including the trade unions, the National Women's Council of Ireland and others. The board made a series of recommendations to improve the Maternity Protection Act 1994. The Government has accepted each and every one of them, as worded. The most significant improvements, increasing periods of paid maternity leave and unpaid leave by four weeks, were immediately implemented, even before the legislation was brought forward.

With regard to the length of paid and unpaid maternity leave, we compare very favourably with most of our European partners, to the best of my knowledge. The figures are evident. It is not rocket science.

I thank all those who contributed to the debate. We may be in a position to amend the breast-feeding provisions on Committee Stage. The Department of Health and Children is reviewing its initial recommendations in the light of the World Health Organisation report.

In relation to the pre-confinement period of four weeks, it seems ludicrous that this should be forced on people. Rights are there to be enjoyed. One enshrines them in legislation and the Constitution. With regard to the pre-confinement period, we seem to be forcing rights on people who do not want them in that form. The legal advice from the Attorney General, however, is that to do otherwise in that area would be to contravene the relevant EU directive, which is law and which the Government has to obey. I will have it looked at again. We will get legal opinion, and if the situation can be eased, I will be happy to table the appropriate amendment.

There will no doubt be a detailed Committee Stage debate on this entire matter, to which I look forward. I thank all those who contributed to the debate and commend the Bill to the House.

Question put.

Brady, Cyprian.Brennan, Michael.Callanan, Peter.Cox, Margaret.Daly, Brendan.Dardis, John.Dooley, Timmy.Feeney, Geraldine.Fitzgerald, Liam.Glynn, Camillus.Hayes, Maurice.Kenneally, Brendan.Kett, Tony.Kitt, Michael P.Leyden, Terry.

Lydon, Donal J.MacSharry, Marc.Minihan, John.Mooney, Paschal C.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Rourke, Mary.O'Toole, Joe.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Ormonde, Ann.Phelan, Kieran.Scanlon, Eamon.Walsh, Kate.White, Mary M.Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

Bannon, James.Bradford, Paul.Browne, Fergal.Burke, Paddy.Burke, Ulick.Coghlan, Paul.Coonan, Noel.Feighan, Frank.Finucane, Michael.Hayes, Brian.

Higgins, Jim.McCarthy, Michael.McHugh, Joe.Norris, David.O'Meara, Kathleen.Phelan, John.Ross, Shane.Ryan, Brendan.Terry, Sheila.Tuffy, Joanna.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators U. Burke and Terry.
Question declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 3 June 2003.
Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 1.15 p.m.