Before I call on the proposal to be moved, on my behalf and that of my colleague from County Leitrim, Senator Comiskey, I welcome Councillor Frank Dolan and some friends and neighbours from Sligo and Leitrim who have joined us in the Visitors Gallery. As Leitrim people we are particularly pleased to welcome you. With that, our little bit of parochialism is out of the way. I hope the Minister of State does not mind us indulging ourselves.
Parental Leave Bill 2013: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to welcome the Minister of State. As she is aware, I am one of her biggest fans. The purpose of the Parental Leave Bill 2013 is to provide for both maternity and paternity leave for parents of newborn children. It allows fathers the opportunity to share the maternity leave allocation of 26 weeks from the workplace if the mother so wishes. This innovative legislation proposes that the current maternity leave scheme be amended to enable a women to transfer a proportion of her maternity leave and benefits to the father of the child. Fianna Fáil supports the Bill, which provides for maternity and paternity leave for parents of a newborn child.
This is part of an overall Fianna Fáil strategy aimed at creating jobs and stimulating growth in the economy by encouraging women entrepreneurs to develop their businesses. It seeks to amend Part II of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 to provide an entitlement to maternity or paternity leave after the birth of an employee's child. The Bill also has the added impact of enabling fathers to have a more hands-on opportunity in the rearing of their children, including newborn babies, while underpinning the concept of a shared responsibility for the care of children.
The greatest challenge facing the country is to create employment to offer hope and a potential living to the 300,000 unemployed and the young people in our schools and colleges. The only way we can create jobs is to encourage new enterprise. The responsibility for raising young children rests almost entirely with women. The biggest untapped source of enterprise is 50% of the population, women, who face multiple barriers in becoming entrepreneurs and developing business.
My contribution to easing the barriers is to allow fathers to share the responsibility of maternity leave. This flexibility in the maternal leave scheme would allow women entrepreneurs to devote more time to their enterprises, develop their businesses and create jobs. International studies show that women entrepreneurs are lagging significantly behind their male counterparts and Ireland reflects this international trend with women early-stage entrepreneurs in Ireland outnumbered, with two and a half times more men in top business positions than women.
The Bill is one of a series of innovative initiatives contained in the forthcoming Fianna Fáil policy paper I have produced and which will be launched next week. It is about promoting women entrepreneurs. It offers fresh thinking in employment solutions. I have experience having started up Lir Chocolates with Connie Doody in 1986 and the company now employs 150 people. I know from experience what are the difficulties. I never thought that women were discriminated against because I never felt discriminated against. From my research and based on all the academic studies, Irish women are not as self-confident as Irish men about their ability to start up, run and grow a business. One of my key recommendations is to establish a national office for women entrepreneurs within Enterprise Ireland - we would not need to set up a new organisation. We should encourage women to work in teams rather than operating solo. That is why Connie Doody and I were able to create a business. We worked 24 hours a day and seven days a week for 16 years, but it was a team effort. One hears very little of State bodies encouraging people to start up as teams. My paper contains approximately 14 initiatives, one of which is encouraging teams.
When we started Lir Chocolates the philosophy and policy was a step-by-step approach, involving learning everything about one's local domestic market first, which we did. We then moved to the North and then further. When Tesco took over Quinnsworth my world fell apart. However, it gave us an opportunity and we took it. We went straight into 700 stores in the UK.
I thank Senator Quinn for his support. I will tell a little anecdote. We could not afford to have outer cases for our boxes of chocolate in the beginning. So every week I used to go to Superquinn in Ballinteer where we live and the ladies in the deli used to keep the Castlemahon chicken outer boxes. I used to collect ten or 12 of those and deliver our boxes of chocolates to the shops with which we were doing business. I pay thanks to both Senator Quinn and Tesco. I also thank Mr. Tom Nolan.
Half the population are women.
More than half.
More than half. Nobody is thinking about this. The country is not being competitive if we do not use the brains of half the population - the women - and do not help them to start up businesses. We are losing out on their brains and skills. There are many other issues and I do not want to hog the time. Our party leader, Deputy Martin, asked me to prepare a policy paper on women entrepreneurs. We will launch it towards the end of next week and we will deal with it here in the Seanad because I believe we will be here the following week. As a businessperson I had to innovate relentlessly, day-in and day-out, to keep the business going and to grow it.
I set up Lir Chocolates to create employment - that was my mission. I saw how people changed physically and emotionally when they got a job. When I got to a certain stage in the business I got an opportunity to stand for election to public office with Fianna Fáil and took it. I thank the Minister of State for everything and wish her continued success.
I commend Senator White on all the work she has done in preparing this excellent Bill and in preparing the paper on assisting women entrepreneurs to which she has referred. I have high regard for the Minister of State and I believe the Bill is worthy of being accepted on Second Stage. As a father, I recognise that should a woman decide to share the maternity leave - it should be her choice - with her partner or husband that should be allowed. The Bill would amend Part II of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 to provide an entitlement to maternity or paternity leave.
Maternity leave has been extended considerably over the past 20 years. Women are entitled to 26 paid weeks and an optional 16 weeks unpaid maternity leave. Under the current State benefit maternity leave system only the mother is allowed to avail of that payment. The current system does not allow a woman to transfer part of her paid maternity leave should she wish to do so to the father so that he can share in caring for the child. If such a partial transfer was possible it could allow a woman greater options, control and flexibility over the time she decides to take off after the birth of her child. Amending the current maternity leave scheme to enable a woman to transfer a portion of her maternity leave and benefits to the father of the child would allow the woman to work outside the home and spend more time in her job.
It would also have the added effect of a better, more hands-on approach being taken by the father. It does not seek to make any compulsory change. That would be the choice of the woman in that instance should the Bill be accepted.
It is interesting to note that paternity leave is not recognised in our employment law. There is no obligation on employers to grant male employees special paternity leave, either paid or unpaid, following the birth of their child. Annual leave taken following the birth of a child is treated in employment in the same way as any other leave at any other time of the year, and it is at the discretion of the employer to decide who can and cannot take annual leave at a given time. I am aware of instances, particularly in a challenging economic environment, where employers will not grant annual leave for a life-changing event for a father such as the birth of his child. The Civil Service, for example, provides for a period of paid leave for male employees following the birth or adoption of their child. Fathers employed in the Civil Service are entitled to a special paternal leave period of three days with pay in respect of children born after 1 January 2000.
The Bill Senator White has put forward will bring us further into line with some of our European colleagues, but I believe it will go even further than that. Austria, Denmark, Italy and France provide two weeks paternity leave. Iceland grants its fathers three months away from work at 80% of their salary. We know that is not an option at the moment, and Senator White knows that too, but this proposal would not impose any additional cost on the Exchequer or on an employer. It simply gives the option to share that leave up to a maximum of 14 weeks. The mother might take 22 weeks fully paid leave, with the father taking four weeks. We are not proposing an exact split; it is flexible.
I would hope that this Bill, which has been very well put together and which I believe is workable, will have the effect of putting more responsibility on fathers on the birth of a child.
I remember when my four year old was born and it is far more onerous for the mother than for the father, particularly for a woman working outside the home. It is difficult for women working in the home but particularly for those working outside the home. If this Bill were accepted it would place certain responsibilities on the father, which is welcome. There are further aspects in law we should examine in terms of these errant fathers or "deadbeat dads", as they are called in the United States, a description I dislike. I hope the Department of Social Protection, in terms of payments to the mother, would consider taking payments out of the salaries-----
-----of fathers who will not pay their share of maintenance for their children. It is outrageous that we still have to go court to do that, and those orders are not always enforceable.
The Minister of State is very welcome. I commend Senator White on this excellent legislation, which once again shows the importance of the Seanad in terms of its innovative measures. I would very much hope the Minister will be able to accept it on Second Stage.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, to the House. I understand the Government will not oppose this Bill beyond Second Stage, which is the correct approach to take. Senator White has always been to the forefront in initiating proposals. As a councillor I recall reading positive documents from her both in the area of suicide and care, entitlements and support for older people. I have been the beneficiary of some of her Lir chocolates, and I am sure the ladies in SuperValu were delighted to give her the cartons because-----
My apologies, to Senator Quinn. I am sure the ladies in Superquinn were delighted to give her the cartons because I have no doubt, knowing her generosity of spirit and character, that she looked after them with some chocolates at Christmas.
That is true.
I am not surprised the Senator has taken the initiative again with this legislation which will enhance and improve the lives of women who give birth, and fathers. I would caution against increasing maternity leave from 26 weeks to 28 weeks. I would consider, in the current climate, that in the short term at least that is not sustainable financially. I understand we have among the best maternity leave periods in Europe. The Minister, Senator White and Senator Moran would know more about this than me but it is not too long ago when it was ten weeks and then 14 weeks. Coupled with that, a woman expecting a baby might have to go on maternity leave two weeks prior to her due date but for health reasons could not contemplate returning to work other than after four weeks. There is a six-week period in which, with the best will in the world, there will not be equality, for obvious health reasons.
The principle of equality beyond that for fathers of children in terms of maternity leave is something I would espouse. Senator O'Brien has a four year old child. I do not have any children and therefore I am not as equipped as others to comment on this area but Senator O'Brien always makes good contributions, and the points he made are compelling. I agree also with the principle of fathers having responsibilities beyond even what is contained in Senator White's legislation.
I concur with Senator O'Brien's comments about the American phraseology but what it is depicting is not appropriate. I have often said that fathers who renegued on their responsibilities when it comes to maintenance should have it deducted at source or their tax increased to take account of the maintenance due. When social welfare is being paid a deduction at source should be considered.
In terms of the provisions, the financial difficulties that would be imposed in the current environment by increasing the leave from 26 to 28 weeks is an issue but if the principle of the Senator's Bill was accepted, all these issues could be thrashed out on Committee Stage. Members on all sides of the House could table amendments that might considerably enhance and improve the Senator's Bill.
We have come a long way in terms of recognising the importance of having parents available to care for their child when it is born. I would like to see an enhancement of parental responsibility beyond the 26 weeks and a loosening up in terms of people wishing to take unpaid leave, not just in the public sector but in the private sector also. Incentives should be given whereby if a family is in a position financially to allow one of the spouses take time off to care for a child until the age of four or five, the State should not stand in the way of parents doing that. The public service is reasonably flexible in terms of people trying to achieve that goal in life. It is probably more difficult in the private sector, particularly for someone in management and those with specific expertise. With the greatest will in the world employers do not want to let good staff go and probably are not in a position for production, managerial and a raft of other reasons to facilitate unpaid leave.
The Government should take any opportunities it has to act as a partner in such an environment. The legislation is commendable and I look forward to seeing it progress to Committee Stage.
I welcome the Minister of State and I congratulate and very much thank Senator White for introducing the Parental Leave Bill. I will speak in support of the Bill and highlight some issues which could be addressed on Committee Stage to strengthen it and broaden its scope.
Sitting here on such a beautiful day we are all aware of work-life balance and getting it right is notoriously difficult, particularly in the current economic environment where parents feel their choice to take leave to be with young children has been significantly diminished and in some cases removed. Children often lose out with regard to bonding time with both parents in early years. It is important we support parents of young children in this difficult balancing act of caring for a young family and working. The best outcome for children is a quality early childhood experience with their parents and quality early years education.
Parental leave is very important because it gives parents an equal role in caring for their children and helps break down negative and prevailing gender stereotypes about child care. In this regard I express my support for the overwhelming vote of the Constitutional Convention in support of considering Article 42.1 of the Constitution which refers to women in the home. A total of 98% of delegates voted in favour of a proposal to alter the article to make it more gender neutral and acknowledge the important role of other carers in the home. It would be an important amendment to our Constitution in the fight against gender stereotyping.
If fathers taking and sharing paternity leave in the early part of their children's lives were the norm and actively encouraged I believe employers would be far less likely to apply, intentionally or unintentionally, bias in terms of hiring and promoting staff. We often hear anecdotally from employers that when they interview somebody in their 20s and 30s they look at a female through a different lens then they look at a man.
This is a fact and any employer who speaks honestly will say this. Making this change with regard to parental leave would encourage and enable women to remain in the workforce after they have children by taking and sharing leave entitlements with their partner.
Ireland has a birthrate of 16.2% which is the highest in Europe and these children are our future labour force and contributors to our pension fund. We know supporting a healthy birth rate is very important. I will contrast this with Germany, which has a birthrate of 8.1% which is the lowest birth rate in the EU. A connection has been drawn between its maternity leave arrangements, which in effect saw female employees getting sucked into an inequitable model of child care and losing their career footing after spending lengthy periods of leave in one go, and a slump in the birthrate. In 2007 the system was overhauled to encourage fathers to take up more parental leave.
Sweden has a very flexible parental leave system and either working parent can take and share an entitlement of 16 months paid leave per child at 80% of salary. This cost is divided between the state and the employer. Norway has a paternal quota scheme. Norwegian parents may take 46 weeks of parental leave at 100% pay or 56 weeks at 80% pay, with three weeks before and six weeks after birth reserved for the mother, while ten weeks of total parental leave is reserved for the father.
All these systems reinforce the importance of the first year of a child's life, which has been shown by research, and also shows the importance of balancing between the father and mother. I am concerned because there is a gender bias throughout our legislation. If we look at current parental leave only if the parents work for the same employer can they look to share their parental leave entitlements. The Government has stated it plans to reform this area and bring us into line with the European directives allowing parental leave to be interchanged between new parents.
We need to be ambitious. I understand the economic climate we are in, but when we examine legislation we should aim for where we wish to go. We want gender equality in caring responsibilities and I would like to see a paternal quota and not a mother's entitlement to give leave to the father. We should clearly state in legislation that fathers have a role. In Sweden if the father does not take up the leave it is lost. This means employers look at men and women in the same way and it ensures the leave is taken.
I suggest we also examine and include adoptive leave.
It is certainly something I will raise on Committee Stage.
At present only a mother is entitled to adoptive leave, except where a male is the sole adapter. It is okay to give leave to a male adopting on his own but if a male and female are adopting together our legislation states only the female can take adoptive leave. When we get to Committee Stage, which I hope we do, I will table an amendment on this. I fully support the Bill. This discussion is important.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch. I welcome the Bill tabled by Senator White and commend her for it. I broadly support the principles of the Bill, which I will speak about, and I will further delve into it as I would also like to discuss the area of adoption.
As a mother of five children and a former school teacher I have real-world experience in the area of maternity leave. Perhaps I was fortunate in that I worked for a Department, had a public service job and was entitled to maternity leave. As somebody who took maternity leave five times in six years I will admit the fourth time I felt almost embarrassed to be asking for maternity leave again. I did not have any issues, but some people commented to me that I was lucky to work in the public service and was entitled to it. Only once did I ever hear comments that I felt should not have been made. I feel very strongly that women should not be ashamed, feel intimidated or be hindered in their career or profession. In interviews they should not be looked at differently because they are women in their 20s or of childbearing age or are pregnant. It should not have any bearing.
I welcome the Bill and the importance it would give to paternity leave. At the time my maternity leave was at least half of what it is now, and while the opportunities available now have been curtailed by the economic situation some sectors still enjoy good maternity leave.
An important and welcome aspect of the Bill is the proposed time off for antenatal classes. A pregnant employee should be entitled to take time off for one set of antenatal classes without loss of pay and we need to discuss this further. The father should also be entitled to a once-off period without loss of pay for the purpose of attending antenatal classes. My husband was self-employed and there was never a question he would come because he could not take time from work.
I agree the measures laid out in the Bill would place Ireland on a firmer footing with our European counterparts.
Currently, parental leave is predominantly in favour of the mother, without much time afforded to the father. Neither is there a statutory entitlement to paternity leave. In the Civil Service, fathers receive three days of special paternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Elsewhere, it is usually left to the discretion of the employer. Some employers are more generous in granting paternity leave than others.
In the UK, which we should examine closely, it has been proposed that fathers would be entitled to one or two weeks of paternity leave and could also share in the mother's maternity leave, which is termed "additional paternity leave", to be taken after the baby is 20 weeks old and before the baby is one year of age. This proposal will take effect in 2015.
I support the call in broad terms and agree that women should not be made to feel as if their professional development or progression is adversely affected by taking maternity leave or by not returning earlier. Sometimes, women feel under pressure to return earlier than scheduled. As Oireachtas Members, we are tasked with providing the conditions for fair and equal employment for all citizens. Just as we do not want women to encounter issues, the same should be the case for men. There should be a balance. No mother of the 21st century should have to narrow her professional prospects to have a family, but this raises the issue of child care.
I experienced difficulties in that regard.
I commend the Bill, as it opens up possibilities and provides the House with an opportunity to debate the matter. I hope that we will have an opportunity to discuss it further on Committee Stage. It is important that both parents be present to bond with the child and that the father does not lose out.
However, the issue of adoption has been overlooked in the Bill. It should be put forward for consideration. Under the Adoptive Leave Act 1995, as amended by the Adoptive Leave Act 2005, only the adoptive mother is entitled to avail of adoptive leave from employment except where the man is the sole adopter. The person taking-----
I must ask the Senator to conclude, as her time has concluded.
-----the adoptive leave does so without any entitlement to pay. It is subject to the employer. This situation should be addressed in the Bill. Paternity leave should be allowed in this context, as adoption is just as life-changing as having a biological child.
Fathers and partners should be afforded the same time off to bond and care for adoptive children.
Will the Acting Chairman indulge me for a moment on a further issue concerning the amount of money that a father would be paid while on paternity leave? Will the package mirror pay under maternity leave? If it poses a cost, many families would not be able to afford it.
The Senator has gone way over her time.
Same-sex couples are not afforded the same parental leave entitlements as heterosexual couples. I hope that we will consider the equal rights of parents, be they same-sex or heterosexual couples, on Committee Stage.
I welcome the Minister of State. This Bill is also welcome. Senator White has put a significant amount of effort into it. As someone who has run a business and is also a mother, which is not easy, she has a great deal of experience of this matter. I was delighted to hear Senator Moran's reference to a prenatal clinic. My wife and I have five children. With our first child, my wife had the opportunity to attend the late Kathleen O'Rourke for antenatal clinics. Fathers attended on the last day as well to get experience. My wife benefited in the form of pain control through breathing methods.
Senator White has introduced an interesting Bill. Changes may be made on Committee Stage, given everything that has been stated. The Senator has invested her commitment on that basis. The Bill is worthwhile.
People often refer to gender equality, but they forget to mention that this concept also applies to men. In terms of parental leave, we must strike a balance. Ireland is lagging behind in this regard, even compared with our neighbours in the UK. Having an employer who is a parent is a considerable benefit. A manager of one of our supermarkets, Mr. Jerry Twomey, has a wife named Yolanda. He arranged a little initiative - it does not deal with birth as such - whereby parents got the morning of their children's first day of school in September off. This was appreciated by the parents. As he and his wife have four girls, he is aware of the day's importance.
Currently, men do not have the ability to spend as much time with their children at a crucial stage of their development. According to some studies, fathers who take more responsibility for small children are more likely to stay in contact should their families break up at a later stage. From the employers' perspective, I can understand the concerns that they may have with such a Bill. Some have been mentioned. However, if we were to balance out the leave, we would lessen their concern that a woman was more likely to leave her job because of childbirth if she knew that men were entitled to the same leave.
However, we must also be careful about placing too many regulations on business. It is one matter for a large multinational to offer paternity leave, but the effect on a small to medium-sized enterprise, SME, employing five or six people could pose difficulties. These are the sorts of issue that we can address on Committee Stage.
What will this measure cost the taxpayer? Has a cost-benefit analysis been conducted? If more leave days are taken, which is a reasonable assumption, productivity will decrease. Senator White mentioned unemployment but competitiveness must be considered first, as it will attempt to solve the unemployment problem. It is difficult for me to support a Bill through which more costs will be placed on business. More importantly, if more costs are placed on the taxpayer, who is already under significant financial stress, how difficult will that be? Should the Government offer paternity leave just because some private companies offer the same benefit? This fundamental question is worth considering.
If we are going to go down the route of paternity leave, we must ask more questions about its day-to-day functioning. We must bear in mind the situation in other countries where paternal leave is in operation and the lessons they have learned. Listening to Senator O'Brien's comments was interesting. I mean Senator Darragh O'Brien - there are two Senators O'Brien in the House and we must be careful about which one we are speaking.
Some Scandinavian countries have found that there is a low take-up of paternity leave. According to this Bill, fathers and mothers "shall be permitted to share between them the minimum period of maternity or paternity leave." I am unsure as to whether this is the way to go. One of the proposed solutions would be to scrap the transfer of leave between parents. Some claim that this is the only way to encourage men to take up paternity leave. This would be a somewhat drastic measure, but I would be interested in the opinions of other Senators.
In Germany, mothers get bonus weeks of maternity leave if their husbands take a minimum amount of paternity leave, which encourages the uptake of paternity leave. Should we consider doing something similar and offering a bonus? Should we also consider a plain split between maternity and paternity leave? In Iceland, three months are reserved for the mother, three for the father and three for them to decide. On average, fathers only took 103 days leave compared with the 178 days taken by mothers. This approach is more favourable than that of other countries with paternity leave.
Iceland is going even further. Recently, its Government passed legislation for a system of five months maternity leave, five months paternity leave and two months parental leave, which the parents must decide how to use by 2016.
Should we consider this as an example? The Bill is admirable in looking towards real gender equality. I have some reservations but they arise on Second Stage of every Bill. This Bill is very worthy of consideration. It is likely the Minister of State will agree to Second Stage, about which I am delighted, and I encourage her to ensure we can debate it on Committee Stage. I know Senator Mary White has a very open mind on making changes to it to make it a more perfect Bill than it is. The heart and soul of Senator Mary White are in this Bill and we would like to think it will become law. If that means some improvements or changes, then so be it.
We should always be very careful about falling into global assumptions about men or women. The one thing I discovered in my work on equality, about which I was a bit surprised, is that women who have children work longer hours because of the financial imposition, and it is an area in which Senator Mary White has had an interest long before I ever got this job and we have discussed it on several occasions. We need to be careful we do not impose on people what we consider to be their protective role. That is something which surprised me.
A Europe, Middle East and Africa manager for Dell told me that it has taken a root and branch approach to ensure it supports and maintains, as far as possible, as many women as it can in its workforce because it considers them to be so valuable and the company asks them what they think would help them.
This Bill would clearly have an equality bonus because one would not have the obvious first impression by an employer in terms of women of child bearing age. Women of that age may not intend to have children or it may not be possible for them to have children but how can one convince someone sitting across a desk of that? I think it would have an equality bonus. This issue will bring us into different areas which are not necessarily connected to maternity issues at all but will open up the discussion in regard to other areas.
I think that for a while people thought the two officials sitting behind me and I lived together because we spent the six months of the Presidency working on the whole maternity-paternity leave area in Europe. We met all the relevant Ministers in Europe. I am sure that some day someone will make a freedom of information request in regard to that and thank us for our efforts. Unfortunately, there are some people who are more conservative than us, although sometimes one would think that was not possible, and they refused to move on this issue. However, we have not given up. We do not hold the Presidency anymore, so we do not have the type of influence we had but we worked extraordinarily hard on it and I think our efforts were appreciated. We are not the only ones thinking about this issue; other people in Europe are thinking about it also. Other countries are worried about the cost implications, as was Senator Feargal Quinn.
I thank Senators Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson and Darragh O'Brien for bringing forward this proposal. Their intentions are laudable, as I would expect, and worthwhile, as they recognise the important role that mothers and fathers play in the caring and nurturing of young children. I am well aware of the difficult work that goes into the development of a Private Members' Bill and, on many occasions since I have become Minister of State, I have paid tribute to colleagues in both Houses who have undertaken this task. I again acknowledge the hard work undertaken by the Senators in bringing these proposals forward.
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, has asked me to acknowledge the work of the Senators in preparing these proposals. As they may know, in his time as a backbencher, he was responsible for a number of Private Members' Bills which became law - I think more than anyone else. In the light of that record, he has asked me to say - and I agree completely with him on this point - that it is his firm conviction that Government should not automatically oppose a Private Members' Bill where it contains a good idea, even if it needs more work at a technical, drafting level. There are a number of problems with the detail of this Bill, as distinct from the principle, which I will come to those in a moment, but I would say to Senators and Members of the other House who may be thinking of bringing forward Private Members' Bill in the justice area in future that they might consider availing of a confidential consultation with the relevant departmental officials in a advance of publication. That is always helpful. The Department cannot express an opinion on the merits or on the politics of it and cannot help with the drafting but could point out any obvious technical problems with the draft Bill and give the sponsoring Member an opportunity to have these corrected. This would actually be a useful step as we parliamentarians could then concentrate on the substance when we debate the Bill rather than having to point to technical issues.
There are a few technical problems with the Bill, as published. I am slightly confused by a number of elements of this draft legislation, which I hope Senator Mary White can explain. These include that the Bill proposes to increase the number of weeks of maternity leave from 26 to 28 weeks and provides that this new allocation be shared - 14 weeks for the mother and 14 weeks for the father. This appears to be the intention, although the Bill has a number of drafting defects, including the proposed new section 8(1) to be inserted in the existing Act, which creates an entitlement of not fewer than 14 consecutive weeks leave for the pregnant employee or the father, that is, the word "or" means this is not for both. I am sure this is an error but the Senator might confirm this. It is easy to see how these things can happen without the help of draftsmen.
I might also mention the Title of the Bill, Parental Leave Bill 2013. The Bill, in fact, proposes to amend current maternity leave legislation and not parental leave legislation. For the benefit of doubt or confusion, I wish to set out the current position in regard to the various types of leave available. Maternity leave of 26 weeks, which attracts a social welfare benefit, is currently available to mothers, as is an unpaid period of 16 weeks. Adoptive leave of 24 weeks, which also attracts a social welfare benefit, is currently available to mothers, as is an unpaid period of 16 weeks. I note that the Senator's Bill is silent on the issue of adoption. I am not the only one who picked up on that but I am sure it is something which can be looked at. Parental leave of 18 weeks, which is unpaid, is available as an individual right for both mothers and fathers. This leave can be taken in respect of a child up to the age of eight or, in the case of a child with a disability or serious illness, up to the age of 16.
We currently have no provision for paternity leave which, in a number of other countries, is available to fathers. We should have provision for paternity leave in our system and the Government has agreed that we should have paternity leave. On this point of principle, therefore, the Government will not oppose the Bill. However, the Government cannot support the introduction of this two additional weeks paid maternity or paternity leave at this time. To come to Senator Feargal Quinn's point, last year close to 24,000 women received maternity benefit at a cost of over €300 million to the social insurance fund. It is estimated that the cost of such an additional two weeks would be in the region of €11.4 million per year. This, in itself, does not sound like a huge amount of money but it is just not feasible in the current economic climate. We need to avoid creating perverse economic incentives where higher paid men in employments that offer maternity leave on full pay would take the leave rather than the mother who is in a lower paid employment which only attracts the social welfare maternity benefit.
We need to take our economic realities into account and avoid increased costs and any dislocation in the labour market as far as possible in making progress in this area, although we are committed to making progress. Essentially, people in well-paid employment could gain an advantage rather than having people benefiting right across the spectrum. These are issues to be teased out.
A much more substantial frailty in the Bill is that the entitlement to 14 weeks leave for fathers is created without any qualification and without giving the mother any choice. We must be careful about that and there are many permutations. A mother currently has 26 weeks leave, which attracts maternity benefit, a social welfare payment, and this Bill would reduce that to 14 weeks without any consultation with the mother. This new right is given to fathers without any qualification, regardless of whether there is a continuing relationship between the parents, the circumstances of the conception or whether the father is spending any time of any nature with his child or making any contribution to his child's support. Are we serious about reducing a women's entitlement and transferring it to the man without regard to whether he has any involvement with the child? I do not think we are but the issues can be examined.
I do not support the removal of an existing right, especially in this area, where women have had to fight over the generations for the right to maternity leave and not be discriminated against because they take such leave. That relates to Senator Moran's point. There is also the right to return to work and to the same pay and conditions as before. Nothing in this proposal should weaken the rights of women, and I am sure everybody agrees with that point. This proposed Bill also requires the mother and father to take the leave at separate times and I do not understand the reasoning behind this aspect of the proposal. I imagine that in certain cases both the mother and father may wish to consider taking leave together to cope with the demands of a young child, and anybody in that position knows that it is great to have another person available when the other takes a rest or takes a break from night feeds. Nevertheless, I am interested in understanding the Senator's views on this aspect.
Notwithstanding the obvious flaws in the Bill as published, it is timely to take on board the idea of creating a provision for paternity leave by allowing maternity leave to be shared with the father in certain circumstances. As I stated earlier, we do not have a statutory provision for paternity leave but it is important that fathers and their important role in nurturing children are acknowledged. I consider this an omission in our current system, especially in terms of promoting greater equality in society by encouraging a fairer sharing of domestic responsibilities between men and women. Evidence from countries such as Norway indicates that paternity leave - aside from its social benefits and positive impact on fatherhood - promotes equality for women and supports a higher level of female participation in the labour force.
I favour a flexible approach to address modern workplaces and give working families maximum flexibility in choosing how to divide leave and life. There must be a period of compulsory leave for the mother for health and safety reasons, and that is currently six weeks in our system, with two weeks before the birth and four weeks afterwards. I favour an approach whereby the mother remains in control of the leave but can decide to share some of it after the compulsory period with her partner. How much can be shared would need to be considered in detail and we would need to consult relevant parties, not least with mothers. Such a flexible system would help to create a system of parental leave that works for modern lives and respects a family's right to choose how to care for children. This flexibility would also enable working fathers to take a more active role in caring for their children and help towards reducing the gender bias that currently applies to women's careers.
In summary, the Government cannot support the proposal to increase the overall length of maternity or paternity leave and cannot support a proposal that fathers would have an automatic right to 50% of the available leave allowance, regardless of whether there is a relationship with the mother. However, I am suggesting to Senators that the Government will accept the principle of the Bill, which is that we should have provision for paternity leave on a shared basis in our family leave system. We will accept it on the basis that we will not take Committee Stage until the first quarter of next year. This will allow us to consult more widely with employers and trade unions, relevant non-governmental organisations and with women groups, as well as with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Social Protection in order to design an approach that is affordable and feasible. This would also include consultation with the Equality Authority, soon to become part of the human rights and equality commission, on the gender equality aspects. The path to be followed will also have to ensure no major increase in public expenditure in the context of the State's current circumstances.
Following this consultation, the Government will bring forward Committee Stage amendments early in the new year. The shape of an amended proposal could possibly include maternity leave remaining vested in the mother; and the mother having the choice to share a part of the leave, to be defined and in any event excluding the minimum period which must be taken by the mother for health and safety reasons and to meet EU law requirements, with the father. The father will also have to meet the necessary social protection requirements in his own right with regard to social insurance contributions, etc., in order to receive payment. That point was raised by Senator Moran. Proposals may also include safeguards to avoid any dislocation or perverse incentives, and Senator White may know more about tackling this than anybody else because of her involvement in commerce. There would also need to consider similar provisions applying to adoptive fathers and mothers. We need to design an approach that will work and we need a full impact assessment on the amended Bill. I ask the Senators now for time so the Government can consult fully on the implications of the Bill and to allow for the development of a number of detailed Committee Stage amendments to address the issues of concern I have outlined. If that is agreed, we will not oppose the Bill.
As many Senators are aware, the Government approved proposals last December to draft a family leave Bill. This will consolidate all the family leave legislation, including that dealing with maternity, parental, adoptive and carer's leave, into one Bill. Responsibility for carer's leave is being transferred from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Department of Justice and Equality in the context of this statute law consolidation exercise. This consolidation will involve examination of possible discrepancies and anomalies between the various Acts with a view to making the code more accessible and streamlined. This is a significant statue law consolidation and revision project on which work is ongoing. It is too soon to say when the Bill will be published but we are aiming for early next year. Depending on the timing of publication of this Bill, it may also be possible to incorporate the principle of the Senators' proposals in the consolidation Bill and still come back in the first quarter of the year. If that is not possible, we will return with amendments to the Bill in the first quarter of 2014 as a stand-alone exercise which can ultimately be incorporated in the family leave Bill.
I thank the Senator for her difficult work and I hope we can all agree on a way forward.
I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive reply. I also join my colleagues on this side of the House in complimenting Senator White, as the Minister of State has done, on her initiative in bringing this forward. It is rather interesting that while the main thrust of the Bill is about specific details, as discussed by the Minister of State and outlined by Senator White, the overall objective is not just about equality, but to try to encourage more women into work. Specifically, it is about ensuring that women in work will not have any obstacles in their advancement. There is a glass ceiling not alone for executive positions, but also with the pay issue right across all strata of society.
Notwithstanding the fact there are some technical issues outlined by the Minister of State that need correction, I am particularly pleased that the overall thrust of the Bill is being accepted. That will bring us in line with best practice in other parts of Europe. The Minister of State is correct in saying women have fought long and hard to get the rights they currently enjoy with maternal leave. Based on international statistics from across Europe, we were not unique in Ireland in the view that the nourishment of children from birth to early childhood years was the responsibility of the mother, with the father traditionally seen as the bread winner, but there have been considerable changes over the past 30 years in particular. I suggest that Mr. McCreevy's individualisation concept may have changed the system utterly. I do not know if a terrible beauty was born but I am not sure as much emphasis was placed on people who wished to have a working woman in the home as there was in getting women into the wider economy.
I often suspected that there was a great deal of pressure coming from the increasing number of multinationals coming into this country to get more and more women into the workforce, not always to the benefit of the nurturing of their children. I am not suggesting that all of that had anything to do with the anti-social problems we are currently experiencing, all the other aspects of marital life or the raising of children but certainly I do not think much thought was given to the social impact of individualisation.
I do not necessarily want to take up the time of the House in respect of this. My primary role was to support Senator White in putting forward this proposal and to hear the Minister of State's response. There are elements of her response that need further amplification. It is vitally important that the rights mothers currently enjoy would not be eroded in any way as a result of the initiative brought forward by Senator White. I do not think that this was what she intended to do. I will leave the House with the thought that this is as much about equality in the workforce as it is about the nurturing of children in the home. It will be interesting to get the views of the Government when Committee Stage of the Bill is reached and to hear how it will protect and encourage more women who are currently in the workforce to ensure there is more equality in the workforce as distinct from just looking after the needs of young children.
All of us know, particularly mothers, that the most critical part of a child's development is in the first two years. In that period of time, insofar as is possible, the mother needs to be with child and bond with it. Unfortunately, due to economic circumstances, that has changed. It goes back to the early part of the past ten or 15 years with the changes in the tax code. It was something I did not necessarily agree with at the time and I still do not agree with it. I still think it is important that the mother is with her children in those critical early years as much as is possible. At the same time, needs must and the economic realities that most families now face mean that where they can, both parents work so some sort of new system must be brought to bear to bring the father into the equation. That is the thrust of this Bill.
I did not intend speaking on the Bill but sitting here and listening to the debate, I found it very interesting. I commend Senator White for bringing this Bill forward. It is amazing that in all the years in which Government and the Oireachtas has been dominated by men, it takes a woman to look for paternity leave. Well done to Senator White for that.
We cannot overestimate the importance of the father. I recall an experience I had with my first child. I came home on a Thursday with the baby and my husband collected me and stayed off work from Thursday to Sunday. On Monday morning, he was going out to work and the baby started crying. I started crying and I did not know which one of us was worse. My poor husband did not know what to do. He had to ring work to see if he could stay at home for the day. It shows how coping with a small child can be demanding. Many people get post-natal depression and it is quite horrific to go through. I am not saying I went through it but I know women who suffered badly from it. Some even ended up in hospital. I can see the importance of having someone there to support one. I know one's family can but one is calling them all the time. If one's partner or spouse is there to help one, nothing can beat that.
Senator White would like to share leave so that while the father was at home, the mother would work. Having the father in the home to help even during the few days when one comes home from hospital is very important. Like others, I have reservations about some aspects of the Bill but we can thrash them out as we go forward on Committee Stage. Obviously, the financing of it is one issue. Given the climate we are in, who will pay for paternity leave? Will it be the employer or the State? Will the father take over the maternity benefit? Will he have contributions? There are a range of technical issues that must be sorted out but the sentiment and idea are good. I commend Senator White for bringing it forward. In fairness, the Minister is not shelving it or turning it down. He has agreed to look into and tweak it. It has the makings of a good Bill and will reflect well on Senator White because she brought it forward.
I deal, as do all of us, with young women who are in one-parent family set-ups. In some cases, they really do not want any connection with the father of their child and the father is fighting for his right to be associated with the child and to have his name on the child's birth certificate. I worry that if this is introduced into law, the father would have a right to take paternity leave and the mother would have to let him take over.
It is the mother's choice whether to share or not.
Is it a choice if it is introduced into law? Again, we can thrash all that out and tweak it a bit. I am worried about it. A mother who may have had a caesarean section would need longer maternity leave than one who had a natural birth. Again, I would be worried about having these women go back to work too soon. Obviously, that is a health and safety issue. They are some reservations I have.
On the flip side of that, there are some very good proposals here. In particular, women participating in the workplace is fantastic. We have come a long way because women can make a valuable contribution to the workforce. We have come a long way from the days of the marriage bar, about which I spoke this morning at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. Women could not even go to work in those days, never mind get maternity leave. They had to give up their jobs just because they were married. It did not matter whether they had children or not. We have come a long way where we are now looking for leave for fathers, never mind women returning to work. This morning, I again raised with the Minister for Social Protection the fact that those women should have been entitled to a credited contribution. That has all been sorted and we have what is known as a homecarer's credit for women at home looking after children. Back in those days, it was not their fault. They had no choice because that was the law. One had to give up one's job simply because one got married.
The Cathaoirleach is giving me notice that my time is up. Time flies when one is enjoying oneself. I commend Senator White and hope this Bill will go the whole way and that we will be behind her on it.
I welcome the Minister of State and welcome her for her very nice and generous response. We had a hard morning trying to defend this House against those who wish to extinguish us so doing something creative is wonderful. I thank the Minister of State; Senator Conway, who always speaks in that frame of mind; and Senator Moran as well. I also thank Senator White for the Bill and all the work that went into it. I thank Senator Moloney for sharing her experiences.
The sharing within the family is a good idea and does not involve an increase in expenditure. I am sure that interests the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as well. How would we ensure the sharing is genuine? This is a benefit we have decided to give to women and I support that. Will some unscrupulous men take it for themselves against the real wishes of the woman? This is one of the things we have to discuss on Committee Stage to make sure there is full assent because it could be a handy grab in a way Senator White and the House would not intend.
In Ireland the responsibilities of fatherhood are being taken more seriously. When the Minister of State is compiling her thoughts it would be interesting to know what social research is available now. I get the impression, given the better housing conditions, that the pub society which many men would have frequented in the past has lost its attraction, that maybe there are not so many fellows married to the GAA, Fianna Fáil or whatever excuse they used to stay out of the house and that there is much more sharing. I discussed this issue with Senator Feargal Quinn and he said he remembers when the first man wheeled a pram down Grafton Street, the newspapers were out taking photographs as this was such a historic event. I do not think it is such a historic event any more. We welcome the fact that the joys of family life and the responsibilities are shared and there should not be the gender stereotyping that the Minister of State described.
I still have a complaint against HPAT Ireland which keeps women out of the study of medicine. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, agrees with me but it still happens. The excuse is that the women would leave to have children. I say that is more customers for the medical profession so why object to them being in medical school? It also deprives girls of a role model when they go to see doctors. I hope that kind of discrimination will be always tackled. The Minister is on our side in the argument but the universities still do it and that should not happen.
In looking through the points made by the Minister of State, I appreciate the one about the well-paid leave takers costing more by transferring the leave between them and her impact assessment. That is very important in all laws and I welcome what she has said. Sometimes we do not think through the consequences and it would be worthwhile to do it. This Bill is optimistic, it is positive, if it frees up the women entrepreneurs that Senator Mary White wants. If it strengthens and deepens the family, at which we may be better than we are given credit for, that is all to the good.
In regard to individualisation, I lived in the Kildare constituency and many women liked it and put Charlie McCreevy at the top of the poll. It was not liked in The Irish Times but many people who were working enjoyed not being part of their husband for tax purposes. Maybe he was more revolutionary than people are saying now. I look forward to Committee Stage and the generous and welcome response of the Minister of State and the response of the House. It has been a good afternoon's work.
I wish to speak on the Bill because it is important and deals with parental leave. Anything that has to do with parents, children, child care, the home and how we can make things more acceptable and easier for children and parents in the home place is worthwhile. I am aware the Minister of State pointed out that there are many flaws in the Bill. However, one cannot get everything perfect at the first hurdle. Bill drafters are there to ensure the corrections are made. The spirit and the idea are good. I listened in my office to the many flaws mentioned by the Minister of State. I am not going to repeat them but they can be corrected and, hopefully, they will be corrected.
On the issue of gender equality, a new regulation or report from Europe was published about a month ago. The new gender equality index ranks Ireland ninth and the Minister of State had something to say about that and the fact that there was a need for more work to be done in Ireland on gender equality. I think it was Senator Feargal Quinn who said when one is talking about gender equality it plays both ways. There is male gender and female gender. We had the male gender take precedence over the female gender. In family life both genders are important. When speaking about gender equality it is important to recognise the role of the father as well as the mother and the choice that either the father or the mother has to make. I commend Senator White on bringing the Bill to the House I am aware she has put much effort into the drafting but, as I said, not everything is perfect at the first hurdle.
Child care is an important aspect. I have worked, lectured, promoted and advocated for it for the past 20 years. It is the most important area of policy to get right because if we get it right in the early stages, the future will look after itself. The Government is committed to improving child care facilities. In the short time that the Minister, Deputy Francis Fitzgerald, has been in government there have been many advances. The establishment of the new Department is a recognition of the importance of children and child care in terms of providing a home-life balance and care giving to children.
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, introduced legislation that increases the entitlement to unpaid paternity leave by a month from 14 to 18 weeks. These changes bring into effect the 2010 EU directive allowing parents more than months leave. That is welcome. Always when speaking on equality, I say that very often Ireland has to be dragged kicking and screaming but we are getting much better. I congratulate the Minister of State because she has been noted for her advocacy and Trojan work in bringing much of the equality legislation on the Statute Book to the fore, all through her political career.
The EU regulations the Minister and the Minister for Justice and Equality introduced will give parents a right to request a change in working hours for a set period on return from parental leave. Employers are not required to grant it but under the EU regulation they must consider it. This is an advance. It is important that we support parents of young children in the difficult balancing act of caring for a young family. This regulation will improve the quality of home-life for working parents. In this connection, one must always mention the people, who by choice, be it the mother or the father, want to care full time for their children at home and not avail of child care. That is a choice we must provide.
The increase in parental leave given effect in the European Union parental leave regulation 2013 is also very important because it gives parents an equal role in caring for the children and helps to break down the stereotypes about child care. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and the Minister, Deputy Shatter, will encourage women to remain in the workforce after they have children if that is their wish.
Other Senators have outlined the parental leave that is available compared to what was available only six to eight months ago. The Government is committed to improving child care facilities. Only last week the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, announced the national child care capital allowance of €2.74 million which comes as part of the second round of capital grants to the child care sector. They are old but important grants. They were introduced many years ago and this is one of the areas where there could have been cuts but the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, recognised the importance of the grants in achieving a home-work life balance.
An important aspect is sharing and being willing to participate. Senator White has included in the Bill that the choice must be made between the parents. It is important that something be written into the Bill to ensure that the choice is freely made, whether it be witnessed or otherwise. We do not know what happens in households. It is important that a provision in included to ensure the choice is made freely.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House to discuss another important issue. The issue of child care is very important, as is maternity and paternity leave. I commend Senator White for bringing forward the Bill. I always commend Senators who go to the bother of tabling legislation because it is very important. It is easy to table motions on issues but when somebody goes to the trouble of drafting a Bill and doing all the research that is involved in it, he or she should be commended. There is no need to be worried about flaws in it because that is what Committee Stage is for. We can pick up on flaws. It is the substance of the Bill that we should celebrate and accept is a good thing.
There is cross-party support for us collectively to do more in the area of child care generally but also in the area of maternity and paternity leave, especially paternity leave, given the very low levels of cover we have in this State. While male employees are not entitled under Irish law to either paid or unpaid paternity leave, they may be entitled to parental leave.
Parental leave entitles parents who qualify to take a period of up to 18 weeks unpaid leave, generally in respect of children aged up to eight years. There is no provision for a social insurance-based payment for periods of parental leave, but employees may be entitled to credited contributions to maintain their social insurance record for the period.
The Minister is on record as saying that the introduction of a social insurance-based payment would involve a cost to the State. It is something we need to examine because people do pay more taxes now than they did before, including PRSI, the universal social charge and income taxes. Parents are entitled to a level of maternity cover or paternal leave when that opportunity presents itself.
We all accept that society has changed. It is not the role of women simply to care for children - that is the role of both parents who have equal responsibility for raising their children. In the early stages of a child's life it is important that they should spend as much time as possible with both parents, rather than just with the mother. Obviously, the mother has a critical role but so too does the father, although very often that has not been recognised for historical reasons.
There is no reason we cannot have more paternity cover in this State. The only reason against it is one of cost, in addition to the fact that there might be issues arising from employers' organisations. Nevertheless, we must face up to the fact that we need to do more. In that respect, this Bill is a good step forward.
In the past, Sinn Féin has backed Labour Party motions supporting the introduction of paid paternity leave to redress the imbalance in family life. While undertaking research for this Bill, I came across an interesting statistic which showed that, on average, women are working longer days than men. I found that amazing, but it is a fact.
One cannot expect women to work longer hours while also being the main carer for their children, while men have no such responsibility. The State should value men's role in this regard.
We need to change attitudes so that more people will accept that it is both parents' responsibility to care for their children. That must also be recognised by the State, however. If the State does not recognise it, that creates a prejudicial view among some people who will elevate the mother's role in raising children above that of the father's role. Equality is important and it works both ways. The Bill before us gives a choice to parents but we should be moving towards paternity leave in any case.
The Minister of State has given a good response and is accepting the Bill in principle. I commend Senator White who has brought forward many policy papers in this House. She has used her time in the Seanad to undertake policy research. One of the criticisms of Oireachtas Members - not just Senators but also TDs - is that we are too locally focused and a big part of what we do is constituency-based. It is said that we should be spending more time on policy matters. Senator White has been one of the exceptions by introducing many policies and Bills. This is one of the better ones and my party will certainly support it.
Senator White has done this House a service. She has a distinguished and prolific career in responding to important issues in society. She does this through exceptionally comprehensive reports as well as Private Members' Bills. The reports she has produced over the years have often been the basis for informed debate. They are timeless and will be used as reference documents into the future.
A lovely partnership is developing here today between the Minister of State, the Government side and Senator White. There is a particular tone in the Minister of State's response which is excellent. We could hear a lot more of that. It should be put on the record once again that the Government should not automatically oppose a Private Members' Bill, particularly when it contains good ideas. That is exactly what we should be hearing. In a way, it is all about job sharing and we should be sharing the work that has to be done. It should not be a matter of them and us, it should be us all the time because we are acting on behalf of the people.
We are dealing with a very changed society, including changed family roles. Senator Quinn referred to the man pushing a pram and that picture was also in my mind. I come from the small town of Cashel which has a population of 3,000. Some 30 or 40 years ago, it would be a courageous man who would push a pram down the main street.
He would be seen as a sissy.
We were prisoners of that attitude. Now that has changed and it is important to underpin, consolidate and support the family unit. That is what this Bill is all about. We accept there may be technical aspects that must be considered, which is understandable. It is not a matter of Senator White or anyone else wanting all the kudos for at least responding to a necessity. It is important for us to get an opportunity to tease it out. People were worried that women might suffer as a result of maternity leave, but I see from the Minister of State's response that that matter is handled exceptionally well by stating the woman may wish to opt for sharing, although there would be certain restrictions and constraints, and rightly so. It is not quite as simple as we would like it to be.
In introducing this Bill, Senator White has made us all think about and discuss parental leave. In that way, we can exchange ideas and views. I compliment the Minister of State for having allowed the Bill to continue but on Committee Stage we will have to examine and discuss several items. There is also room for consultation with many groups representing mothers, fathers and families generally. I accept that Senator White has already done quite an amount of consultation but it is important for us to consult further in order to develop the best legislation.
Senator Cullinane made a good point about costings, but there is a right thing to do even before one considers such costings. That may sound a bit irresponsible on my part but the House knows where I am coming from. First of all, we should put down the legislative marker and then decide on the priorities involved. I do not think we should balk at the idea of doing what is right simply because there is currently not as much in the national purse as we would like to have.
I have read many letters in newspapers and journals from the father's perspective of the family. It may always have been in the back of one's mind but one did not stop to think about it. At the end of the day, a family is about sharing responsibility. Many families are currently going through an exceptionally difficult time as a result of the recession. Many of us cannot fully contemplate how difficult those times are. A person with €10 in their pocket is rich, but if one has no money and must look after children, it is devastating for morale and spirit. While this is only one aspect, it is an important one. Very often when people need support most, they do not get it from agencies or voluntary organisations but from within their household. It is only by underpinning that support through legislation that we are giving the matter accreditation and recognising it.
It can bring much peace of mind and comfort to families. Senator White is making us all quite animated and energised on this subject and she is making us think. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Shatter, for his input on the issue. Given that we have the season and spirit of goodwill, as enunciated in the Senator's statement-----
I have four more speakers and I am conscious of time.
-----let us take it one step further. Let us not just put it on the long finger. Let us ensure that it does become some kind of priority so that while our minds are focused on the issue we can take the next step forward. I compliment Senator White and also the Minister and the Government for the response we have received.
I compliment my friend and colleague, Senator White, on the Bill. It is evident that she has put a lot of hard work into it. I congratulate her.
The Bill proposes to increase maternity leave from 26 weeks to 28 weeks and to provide that the new allocation would be shared – 14 weeks for the mother and 14 weeks for the father. That has been mentioned by all speakers and that appears to be the intention of the Bill. However, the Bill contains a number of drafting defects, including on page 8 where the proposed new section 8(1) to be inserted in the existing Act creates an entitlement of not less than 14 consecutive weeks leave for either the pregnant employee or the father but not both. That is merely an error but a more substantive defect in the Bill is that the entitlement to 14 weeks paternity leave is created without any qualification and without giving the mother any choice. It is paramount that the mother has a choice, regardless of whether there is a continuing relationship between the couple.
The Bill makes no provision for adoptive mothers who are also entitled under current legislation to an equivalent length of leave – or for adoptive fathers for that matter. Previous speakers alluded to the fact also. I am concerned about the proposal that the father would have an automatic right to 50% of the available leave allowance, regardless of whether there is a relationship with the mother. In many cases the relationship after birth might not be as good as it should be and in such cases one could have fathers claiming the leave when they are not entitled to it.
The Minister will bring forward amendments in due course to provide that maternity leave will remain vested in the mother. As a father I believe that is the right approach. There will not be an increase in the current 26 week ceiling of paid maternity leave. The mother may opt to share some of the maternity leave, other than the minimum period which must be taken by her for health and safety reasons. That is currently two weeks prior to the birth and four weeks afterwards. Leave is available to the father subject to him qualifying in his own right on the basis of his social welfare record. The provision will be made for both maternity leave and adoptive leave situations. The Minister of State committed to bring forward Committee Stage amendments to achieve that outcome. She has sought time to consult with relevant Departments, the social partners and the Equality Authority. It is essential that Committee Stage is deferred until early in 2014 to enable the drafting of the relevant amendments.
As a parent and grandfather who got married when it was the law that a wife gave up her job until the children became teenagers and she went back to her employment, I commend and recognise the part played by my wife in those early years with our three children. As far as I am concerned, money would not buy what my good wife contributed to the formative years.
I compliment Senator White on her initiative in bringing forward this Bill. She has a very distinguished record in this House in providing a series of well-researched and detailed reports on a wide variety of subjects but often dealing with areas relating to what one might generally term infirmity or disadvantage, such as the elderly. She has done the Seanad and the Oireachtas a good deal of service in that regard.
The idea of shared parental leave is good for children because it gives a balance. It is something in which many fathers would also rejoice. I recall my closest friend who has been married for many years. A long time ago it turned out that his wife was capable of earning more money than he was. It was a very practical situation. He withdrew from his employment and became a house husband. A lot of his friends jeered him. I did not know that and I said to his wife that it was wonderful. It was great for the children. He has turned into the most superb cook ever since then. I am very much in favour of that.
A number of issues arise in the context of the Minister’s speech. First, I am sure Senator White would agree with the idea of consultation between the parents. That seems to me to be a good idea, in particular in a situation where, for example, there may be an absent or irresponsible father. Politically correct people deny that and say that all fathers are wonderful. No, they are not. Some of them are blackguards and others take no interest whatsoever in their children. I do not think they should have any rights at all.
The Minister rehearsed the various Bills in which he was involved. I compliment him on that. He mentioned the Adoption Act 1991, which was only the second Private Members’ Bill approved in 32 years. The first one originated in the Seanad. It was introduced by Professor W. B. Stanford and was about the humane treatment of pigs in abattoirs. Again, a first for the Seanad. I welcome the Minister of State’s suggestion that Members of the Seanad might avail of an opportunity for consultation with civil servants. I remember doing that some years ago on a tax proposal I had and it was very helpful indeed, in particular if the person involved is more clever than oneself. I organised a consultation with the late Paul Tansey who was able to argue the case mathematically for me. That is a very good thing.
I noticed the Minister said the Department cannot express an opinion on the merits of the politics. That is fine. However, she also said that it could not be of any assistance in drafting a Bill. However, someone should. That is a lamentable defect in our parliamentary system. My colleague, Senator Quinn, introduced legislation, as has every single person on our benches. Senator Leyden has introduced legislation. We should have assistance. Drafting a Bill is a highly technical undertaking. An officer should be appointed by Government to assist us in producing legislation. It is not good enough for someone to say, “Oh, what do they do?”. They give us damn all help and they expect us to make bricks without straw. It is amazing the quality of bricks that come out of the Seanad. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, to take back the idea to her Cabinet colleagues. The Minister accepted that a number of other countries have paternity leave and accepts the principle of the Bill. I very much welcome that. It is a good day and I am sure the Bill will be tidied up. We in this House will be of increasing assistance to the Government in putting legislation for it to consider from Seanad Éireann. Watch this space.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan had planned to contribute. He would like to be associated with the remarks I will make on the Bill. I compliment Senator White on introducing the Bill to the House. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, for being so open and generous in her approach. She indicated that she will take the best of what has been presented and will incorporate it into a Government Bill. That is worthwhile. Senator White has invested much research in the Bill and that will be of great assistance to the Government. This is not a simple or straightforward area, it is a complex one. The benefit of breast-feeding, which is essential in the early months, cannot be provided through paternity leave.
It depends on all those types of issues and on whether there is agreement between couples. It would be a great help to any new Member of the Oireachtas if his or her spouse or partner could be at home to assist in bringing up the children. This Parliament, this Dáil and Seanad, is very much geared towards men in politics as opposed to women, particularly women who have young children. When I was elected to the Dáil in 1977, I could come up here on a Tuesday morning and leave my four children at home with my wife and family. They were looked after, fed, dressed, educated and supported in every way possible. I was here three or four days a week and I had clinics at the weekend. This is not a very family-friendly place. We hear now that the Dáil may sit until 2 a.m. and that shows that this place is quite impractical in terms of being family friendly.
It would be easy to reform the Dáil and the Seanad and modern technology could be used. It would be possible through a system for Deputies to vote safely in their own homes if they wished to do so. There is no reason that could not be done. On crucial votes on a budget, the Members would have to be called up but on normal legislation voting in that way would be quite in order. Many changes could be made.
Deputy Lynch has been far more generous to Senator White than the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, has been to me. I introduced a wills Bill in 2007 on which I received the support of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party and we got it through this House. It is a simple straightforward proposal to have a system in place for registering the last will and testament of people. There is no such system in Ireland. One can register one's dog but one cannot register a will. Instead of the Minister saying she would accept it, she said that the advice she got from her Department was that it was not practical. It is still on the Order Paper and I have kept it on it to try to persuade the Minister and the Government of its value.
I compliment Senator Norris on his point of view in this regard. The Government could consider such legislation. This House has provided extremely good legislation. Senator White has been very proactive not only in producing legislation but on producing wonderful documents on promoting women entrepreneurs, reports on the issues of suicide, child care and older people, which is fantastic material, and a Bill she introduced on the issue of mandatory retirement, which was very progressive. The Seanad has done the State some service, as Senator White and others have been very proactive in using the Seanad, as it provides a framework for introducing legislation.
On a point of clarification, I received a phonecall from a journalist just now. I am not worried about people tweeting from here but I am referring to when something is tweeted from here out of context. For instance, I spoke earlier today about the fact that certain fascists were Christians but that that did not excuse their monstrous behaviour. They were monsters, let us be quite about it. I hate being misrepresented. The then Pope brought in an encyclical in 1932 and even though there was two fascist leaders, they disregarded the Pope and religion and became absolute monsters, murdering people in the Holocaust. A tweet went out from here and it was picked up by the red-top journalists and straight away they started saying they are linked somehow. I was making a factual statement. I went a bit further by the way and said that General Eoin O'Duffy was also a fascist who was linked to the Brownshirts and the Blueshirts who amalgamated with Cumann na nGaedheal to form Fine Gael. I will add further to this at 7 p.m.
I am pretty annoyed that what was tweeted was taken out of context. I want to clarify it.
On a point of order, the Senator is being deliberately provocative instead of being a little bit more co-operative.
I ask Senator Leyden to conclude.
I commend the Bill to the House. I am delighted that the Government has agreed to accept this Bill and that it will pass Seanad Stage and we will return to it in the autumn of early next year.
The Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, had nothing to do with the legislation.
I call Senator White to conclude.
I am a person who very much wears my heart on my sleeve. I am transparent, probably too much so for the business we are in. I am overwhelmed by the support from everyone who spoke on the Bill today. This legislation is very much part of the point about allowing half of the talent of our country, the women of Ireland, to participate. We are not being competitive if we are not using the brains of half of the country. We have to further encourage men in Ireland to fully participate in the rearing of their children. Despite all that we have heard about men, I love to see a man wheeling a pram, but we still have a long way to go because the women are carrying the burden of the rearing of the children. There is no question about that. We need women, as Sheryl Sandberg said in her book Lean In, to push more as well to participate in society. The more helpful a man is in supporting his wife if they have children and, if they do not have children, the more he supports her in what she does, the more happy their lives will be in this world and the more they will be able to develop their potential to the full because they will be living in a happy environment. The more men help women to fully participate, the better. I sincerely believe that the women of Ireland have every right to enjoy family and work the way men do, and their fulfilment and peace in their family life, whether they have children or do not have children, makes for better adjusted people, and the home is their nest. I am overwhelmed. I never expected this.
Well done, Senator White.
Question put and agreed to.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
In the first quarter of 2014.
I beg you pardon, that was a slip of the tongue. Next Tuesday.
I accept what the Minister of State said about bringing forward a Bill to consolidate matters but it would be better to iron out the issues on this one and for it to go forward. That would be better for us all. I do not want to integrate it into the new family legislation, and although that would be right thing to do, this Bill should stand on its right to put a spotlight on our wanting women to participate more in society and men to help women to participate in it. Is that all right?
I wish to clarify a point with the Senator. We need to get this very clear. If Senator's Bill, with the amendments we intend to bring forward, is not to become part and parcel of the overarching legislation that we will introduce at the start of next year, we will come back with amendments to this Bill, but it will still be the first quarter of next year before we get to do this because we need to carry out the consultation process. I want to ensure that is very clear.
The other point I want to make and I am using poetic licence here is that I want to thank the Minister of State very much for putting on the record here today that the Department officials should be allowed to help us. I had it on my radar that they would not help us if we were not in government or they were not allowed to do so. That is a very important point to make today.
I need to clarify a point.
I am going to give the last word to the Minister of State.
I need to clarify that it will not be possible for us to take Committee Stage next Tuesday.
We understand that. It is a procedural issue. The Minister of State's words are very clearly noted.