I know Senator White is interested in this area, as she knows I am. If I make an opening contribution, it may put us in the frame of mind we all want. I know the Senator was not pushing for Committee Stage at this time as we are working on the matter. I thank Senator White and her colleagues for the opportunity to speak today on this important Bill. As I mentioned when we last discussed it, the Bill and its intentions are laudable as they recognise the important role of both mothers and fathers in the care and nurturing of young children. For that reason the Government decided not to oppose the Bill on Second Stage in July last year.
Before turning to the matter before us, I will provide some background on the types of relief currently available which are relevant to the debate. There is maternity leave of 26 weeks which attracts social welfare benefit and is currently available to mothers. An unpaid period of 16 weeks is also available to mothers and this is known as additional maternity leave. There is adoptive leave of 24 weeks, which also attracts a social welfare benefit, currently available to mothers. An unpaid period of 16 weeks is also available to mothers. 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 age eight or, in the case of a child with a disability or serious illness, to age 16.
We currently have no provision for paternity leave, which in a number of other countries is available to fathers. I agree completely with the spirit of the Bill and Senator White's view that it is important that fathers and their important role in nurturing children are acknowledged. This is an omission in the current system in terms of promoting greater equality in society by encouraging a fairer sharing of domestic responsibilities between men and women.
It is the Government's intention to table a number of amendments on Committee Stage as there are a number of substantial and technical difficulties with the Bill. We fully accept the spirit of the Bill. However, due to the complex nature of the amendments and the requirement to carry out consultation across a number of Departments and with employer organisations, trade unions and various NGOs, I am not in a position to present such amendments today. I had hoped to come back to the Seanad with the Government’s response in the first quarter of 2014 but the consultations are taking longer than we anticipated. From Senator White’s experience on the other side of the fence in the private sector, I know she understands the complexities involved.