I am pleased to address the Seanad on Second Stage of the Family Leave Bill 2021. This Bill will help fulfil a number of commitments in the programme for Government, including extending paid parental leave and providing adoptive leave for male same-sex adoptive couples. The Family Leave Bill 2021 has three elements. The first is to amend the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 to extend the entitlements to parent's leave for each parent of a qualifying child from two to five weeks and to provide for this leave to be taken within two years of the child's birth or adoptive placement.
Covid-19 has had a serious impact across society and on working parents, especially those who have had children during the pandemic. They have had to bear a heavy burden, often without the support of family and friends. The extension to parent's leave and benefit is intended to provide them with an additional period of leave to spend with their child. An important facet of parent's leave is to encourage the sharing of childcare. I hope this additional period of leave will support and enable fathers in taking a more prominent role in the care of their young children. I am aware that many parents have been awaiting the provision of this additional leave since it was announced as part of the budgetary process. I am happy that I can now take this legislation forward and make the necessary legislative changes.
The Bill also amends the Adoptive Leave Act 1995 to enable adoptive couples to choose which parent may avail of adoptive leave. In doing so, this will rectify an anomaly in the current legislation which left married male same-sex couples unable to avail of adoptive leave. The proposals will also remove the presumption that the adoptive mother be the primary caregiver and permit families to choose the best option for their family. Currently the Adoptive Leave Act 1995 provides for an entitlement to 24 weeks' leave for an employed adoptive mother or single adopting father. The 24 weeks start from the date the child is placed in the adopting parent's care. An adoptive benefit is available to qualified parents. An additional 16 weeks may also be taken but the adoptive benefit is not available for this period.
This Bill provides for all adopting couples, same-sex and opposite-sex, to be able to choose who should take the adoptive leave. The new provisions would enable either the adopting mother or the adopting father to be eligible to take adoptive leave once the choice has been made by the couple. The parent who does not avail of adoptive leave is entitled to paternity leave. This is a significant amendment for married male, same-sex adoptive couples who were excluded from availing of this leave due to a legislative anomaly. I am happy that we can now rectify this.
A further amendment made by the Bill is to the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, to provide for an increase in the number of ordinary members of the board of the Child and Family Agency from seven to nine and for a number of consequential amendments. The board of Tusla is tasked with overseeing the appropriate, efficient and effective use of resources with the aim of ensuring that the State meets its obligations to the safety, protection, well-being and resilience of children, families and communities in Ireland. The members of the board are collectively responsible for leading and directing Tusla's activities within a framework of prudent and effective control as set out in the Child and Family Agency Act 2013, and the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies from 2016. The work of Tusla's board places a huge demand on the personal time of board members who have to exercise a degree of flexibility in order to carry out board functions. The committees of the board have substantial workloads and can be rendered inquorate in the absence of a member. An increase in the ordinary members of the board will facilitate the work of the board.
I thank the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration for conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill as a priority. In its report, the committee identified a number of key issues related to this legislation and, while I do not feel that they require specific amendments to the Bill, I will give them due consideration. One of the recommendations made was that I should consider how best to target those parents who may not have benefited from the leave and associated benefit during their child's first year or first year of placement following adoption. I am pleased to inform the House that parents of a child born or adopted since 1 November 2019 who have not yet availed of their entitlement to parent's leave will now be able to avail of their full entitlement within two years of the child's birth or adoptive placement.
A further recommendation was that the Bill should make clear provisions for the arrangements for access to retrospective payments of parent's leave from before 1 April 2021 and I am pleased to inform the House that the necessary amendments to the social welfare IT systems have now been put in place and the benefit will be paid from the date of enactment of this legislation.
Another recommendation was that priority should be given to legislating for the right to request flexible working arrangements in order to provide care, as outlined in European Directive 2019/1158, especially in the face of the challenges posed by Covid-19. The right to request flexible working arrangements under Directive 2019/1158 is being considered as part of the broader consideration of the transposition of the directive. The commitment in the national remote work strategy to introduce a right to request remote work will be relevant in this context.
I will outline the main provisions of the Bill. Part 2 of the Bill provides for amendments to the Adoptive Leave Act 1995, in section 5, replacing references to adoptive mother and single male adopter with a new definition of "qualifying adopter", which is:
(a) where a child is placed, or is to be placed, in the care of a couple (of whom neither is the mother or father of the child), with a view to the making of an adoption order, or to the effecting of a foreign adoption or following any such adoption, the member of the couple who is—
(i) an employee, and
(ii) chosen by the couple to be the qualifying adopter for the purposes of this Act
(b) in any other case, an employee, who is not a surviving parent in relation to the child, in whose care a child has been placed or is to be placed with a view to the making of an adoption order, or to the effecting of a foreign adoption or following any such adoption;
In practice, this means that adoptive couples may choose which of the couple avail of adoptive leave, regardless of gender. This will remove any presumptions regarding the gender of the primary caregiver. Section 5 also provides for definitions of "qualifying adopter", "surviving parent" and "adopting parent", which give effect to the proposals as set out above. Section 6 provides for the adoptive parent to have an entitlement to paternity leave if not availing of adoptive leave, which is also set out in Part 7.
Part 3 inserts a definition of "adopting parent" into the Parental Leave Act 1998. Part 4 provides for the consequential amendments required to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended, to provide for the payment of the relevant benefits as a result of the proposed changes in this Bill, including their extension to the self-employed.
Part 5 amends the Child and Family Agency Act to provide for an increase in the number of ordinary members of the Tusla board.
The board currently comprises a chair, a deputy chair and seven ordinary members and under this Bill, the number of ordinary members will increase to nine.
Part 6 provides for amendments to the Workplace Relations Act 2015 consequential to the provisions of Part 2. Part 7 amends the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 to provide for an entitlement to paternity leave for the parent not availing of adoptive leave and amends the definition of "relevant parent". Part 8 amends the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 to provide for an extension of the entitlement to parent's leave and benefit for each qualifying parent from two weeks to five weeks and to extend the period in which parent's leave can be taken to not later than two years after the birth or adoptive placement of the child. This Part also amends the definition of "relevant parent" to provide for entitlement to parent's leave and benefit to an adoptive parent or parents, and his or her spouse, civil partner or cohabitant. The Schedule sets out the consequential amendments to the Adoptive Leave Act 1995 which are a necessary consequence of the amendments in Part 2.
I would also like to inform the House that I intend to bring forward some technical amendments on Committee Stage to allow for the orderly coming into effect of the new personal injuries guidelines adopted by the Judicial Council on 6 March. These will amend the Judicial Council Act 2019 and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 to provide that the guidelines will apply to applications already made to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, except where an assessment has been made.
The guidelines replace the book of quantum for those claims but the book of quantum will continue to apply where the PIAB has made assessments or where proceedings are already before the courts. The Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, has pointed out that the operative date being set addresses both the urgency in tackling high insurance costs and the need for fairness for claimants and defendants alike.
I look forward to hearing the views of Senators on the provisions of this Bill and I thank the House for facilitating this Bill being heard as a priority.