Family Leave Bill 2021: Second Stage

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

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.

I thank the Minister for coming in today. Deputy O'Gorman is very busy with an awful lot on his plate these days. We very much appreciate the time that the Minister gives us here, but also the amount of work that he is doing to put in place everything that is needed for us throughout the pandemic and for the future. It came to light during the pandemic that people were not able to spend quality time with their young babies, but to be able to put this into place for the future is hugely beneficial.

I would like to start by talking about this burden of childcare that people talk about. I feel strongly that childcare is not a burden. Childcare is the care of children, and children are at the heart and the centre of all of this. The burden is actually a burden that society places on us as parents in trying to be with our children. A lot of the reason that I am here in the Seanad, I suppose, and on the labour panel, is because of unpaid caring work that many people do. Whether one is working outside or inside the home, it is very much unrecognised.

The Minister mentioned about the work-life balance directive. This is about adults' work-life balance, but where is the time that children spend with either their adoptive parents or their birth parents? That has to be at the centre now when we are talking about anything to do with childcare. Whether it is in crèches, with childminders or with parents, it is not only about the rights of workers, which is us as the childcare providers. It is also about the rights of the people being cared for to have an unhurried life. I refer to a life where we are not running to stand still, where we are not dropping children first thing in the morning or, in many cases here, for several days and coming back to them, but where we are looking at ways to put in place this Bill, which is hugely important in changing the entitlement to parent's leave and benefit from two weeks to five weeks, and that both parents would be given this where there are two parents or adoptive parents. That anomaly that is being addressed regarding adoptive parents is hugely important.

One issue that people may look at and see may be missing concerns domestic violence leave.

The Minister has spoken in the House previously on this issue and I would like him to say a word at the end on what he intends to do. Domestic violence impacts on a lot of parents particularly, and it is appropriate to bring it up now.

I will take this opportunity to say I am supportive of the Labour Party's reproductive leave Bill and I hope the Government will support it. It goes to the heart of this issue. There are many reasons in their reproductive lives that people may need to take leave. We need to recognise this reproductive part of ourselves and it is being recognised by the Bill.

I know I am going slightly off the Bill itself but Article 41.2° of the Constitution is important. It is one of the reasons I got involved in politics. I came before the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality before I was ever involved in the Green Party. Perhaps I was involved in the Green Party but I was not running for office. In the report produced at the time the recommendation was not to remove Article 41.2° but to look at maintaining a right to care in the Constitution that is shared. This is a right and an obligation that is shared throughout society and the Minister is playing his part as the Minister with responsibility for children. All of us in our communities need to be supported and this means we need the economic means to be able to provide that care.

Some of the tax credits do not go anywhere near where they should to help people stay in the home if that is what they want to do. I know the Minister knows this. This needs to be addressed. The Bill speaks about family leave when working but there are those who are at home and who find it incredibly difficult economically to keep going. I would love to have more conversations about what we can do on this but for a start if we remove something from the Constitution that recognises this care we would be doing a disservice to those who have cared for a very long time and the people who are cared for.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I feel somewhat overdressed on this occasion. If it were not for Mr. Groves I would be the only creature in the Chamber wearing a tie. This is not a criticism.

I welcome the news that the Minister, Deputy McEntee, will remain in Cabinet for the duration of her maternity leave with her duties to be taken over by a colleague. I am glad that a means to facilitate this was found. I would, of course, welcome any constitutional or legal change that would bring about a more permanent way of dealing with maternity leave among Ministers in future. Above all, I wish her, her husband, Paul, and their new baby the very best for the coming months and years.

I welcome the Bill, in particular some of what the Minister said in the course of his speech. I welcome any measure or initiative that allows parents to spend time raising their children. I would add that to the greatest extent possible the State should stay out of how parents choose to raise their children, with due regard, of course, to the constitutional safeguards, while providing the best possible legal framework for parents to make the best decisions with, and for, their families.

While our national policy pays lip service to this goal it is only facilitated in a partial and piecemeal way. The problem at the heart of family policy in Ireland is that every Government for the past 20 years has been devoted to conscripting mothers and fathers into the workplace, particularly women and mothers, when it has been clear in these families that they would prefer that one of them would stay in the home caring for their children.

More often than not, that might be the mother but that is not exclusively the case. A survey by Amárach Research a few years ago indicated 48% of parents would prefer to care for their children at home rather than resorting to expensive childcare but many cannot do so because they cannot survive on just one income and the State makes it as difficult as possible for them to do so through our taxation system and the obsession of policymakers with high-cost childcare. We do not even speak much about tax individualisation now but I remember when a former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, introduced this in a budget. I was one of many people criticising that and what it meant for single income families, with a shift away from the important needs of parents in families to have one of the parents stay at home if that was the wish.

I saw a headline just the other day that Covid-19 has caused a fall in demand for crèche places and that crèches seem to believe this will lead to closures and a rise in crèche fees. I am not an economist but normally one expects a fall in demand will lead to a fall in the cost of a service rather than an increase. Childcare and crèches seem to be one of the sectors in Irish life where the costs faced by ordinary families follow a one-way, upward-only ratchet, where the ratchet is relentlessly driven by State policy. We saw this with the previous Government and the bizarre childcare plan of a former Minister, Katherine Zappone, who sought to give cash incentives to parents who chose to put their children into day care while not giving a penny to parents who chose to stay at home to care for their own children. In other words, it was an effective financial penalty for parents if they chose to stay at home with their children. That demonstrated a morally bankrupt family policy.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are driving this Government with support from the Green Party and it is worth noting that one of the core values of the Fine Gael Party is that it "believes individuals and families know best how to organise their own lives and make decisions for themselves". How can that be true when successive Governments involving that party have tried to make decisions for parents by standing over policies such as the Zappone childcare plan?

National policy on any matter should start with the end goal we want to achieve and work backwards from this with the policy measures that can bring that about. Too often we seem to be wedded to the policy measures themselves and we lose sight of what we are trying to achieve. Something ought to change in this respect. We must work to bring mothers and particularly fathers into their children's lives in a meaningful way. We have seen in the UK and further afield how the absence of fathers in households has proven negative effects on the happiness, health and life prospects of their children. We could well go in the same direction if we do not take measures to pre-empt and prevent that trend.

I welcome the Minister's comments that an important facet of parent leave is to encourage the sharing of childcare and that he hopes an additional period of leave will support and enable fathers in taking a more prominent role in the care of a young child. Those are very welcome words. In that regard and reflecting on what has been said about Article 41.2, the constitutional provision on mothers in the home, I contend it is a very misunderstood provision. In its time it was good and positive, particularly in view of the patterns then prevalent in Irish life. The problem has never been about the provision but rather that it is now unduly specific about the parent to which it pertains. I support a change in the wording but the principle is of parents giving care in the home. I know some question whether the principle should be broadened to the giving of care in the home in general. I support that but there is something in particular to be said about the role of parents giving care in the home.

The Bill introduces adoptive leave for male same-sex couples and this follows from changes in the law at the time of the marriage referendum with the children and family relationships legislation. The logic of the legislation must be followed. I remember debating with the former Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, and she indicated there is no hierarchy of families. I remain of the view, along with many others in this country, that policy should always aim to help children to be brought up by a father and mother and, where it is possible, their father and mother. I strongly believe our policy should always have that preference built in, even while recognising there will be different and unusual positions that must be provided for by law.

Nobody should apologise for having that view because it is grounded in reality. Many people still want to restate it in the most respectful way possible and hope we can move towards that position in our social policy.

The Minister has had a difficult job in recent times, and I sympathise with him, around the mother and baby homes and adoption. I am mindful of the recent documentary in that area. We all have to realise that there were practices in the past that cannot be stood over, including the falsification of birth records. The idea of closed adoption is not something we would endorse today. We also have to acknowledge that sometimes adoption causes pain for the birth mother and sometimes the experience of fostering and adoption has been painful for the children. However, adoption itself is a good thing and can be a good and generous thing. When we consider the tragedy of 6,666 abortions taking place since the legislation, I hope for a day when we can reopen the debate about promoting adoption in the right context, as a good and generous thing that is not without challenges but which at least gives people the chance of life and of a life. I hope our social policy can be generous enough to rediscover that truth.

It is great see the Minister in the House again to discuss this positive issue. It is timely that this Bill is before us on international women's week. Many parents have been contacting us about increased adoptive leave so it is great to be able to give a timeline to them.

To respond to Senator Mullen's comment that a family is founded in reality when it is a man and woman, that view is founded in a reality of prejudice. A family is a family, whatever way the child is brought into the world, loved and taken care of. We are leaving that prejudice behind and creating a new form of family. That is founded in reality.

I welcome the Bill. It amends the Adoptive Leave Act 1995 to enable one partner in a couple, regardless of sex, who have jointly adopted to avail of adoptive leave. It also amends the Parent's Leave and Benefit Act 2019 to increase the duration of the leave and the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 to increase the number of board members of Tusla.

The Bill is a positive move towards creating a fairer and more gender-balanced society. Those of us lucky enough to have a child, regardless of how it comes to a family, whether through physical birth or adoption, need to know the State recognises that every parent deserves time off to spend with the new baby, supporting each other and getting to know that little person for whom they are now responsible. It is a wonderful time. As a mammy whose partner was not able to take time off after the birth of our children, I know it would have made things much easier for us if he had that opportunity. It can be a difficult time for many reasons, including health reasons, and the support parents give each other in that time is important.

Family leave policies are intended to bolster and support gender equality and are integral to supporting child, maternal and paternal health and welfare, as well as birth rates and female participation in the labour market. The goal of all of us here is, I believe, to create a society where child-rearing is a gender-neutral activity. It is part of increasing women's participation in the labour market and reducing the gender pay gap. Bills such as this one and measures providing for non-transferability of entitlement are moves to create equity. Equity is not automatic and requires policy interventions such as this legislation. This and other legislation such as the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill 2019 will create the equity we need to realise the idea of gender-neutral child-rearing. By recognising societal differences, we can create a new normal and reduce gender inequality by addressing the unconscious bias that women should have to care in the home.

I agree with Senator Pauline O'Reilly's call for an amendment to Article 41.2.

I do not believe it should be deleted. The amendment to recognise the care that men and women give to our country and our society is really important. It will also herald a new attitude towards care. I mentioned to the Minister on Monday that we really need to look at the economic value of care and what it means in monetary terms to the State. It has a huge economic value that is not accounted for.

On the inequality of unconscious bias, this prejudice does remain to be fixed. We must tackle this. On Monday I also I referred to my running for election in 2019. I could not remember the number of times I was asked who was going to look after my children. It is an absolutely bizarre attitude. I responded that they have a father and they are grand. I said, "They are free range and will roam the Cooley Mountains". Thankfully, they are very well taken care of.

To date, research in Ireland shows that all forms of parental leave, except maternity leave, has been mixed. The research says that the challenges to taking parental leave, including paternity leave, relate in the main to the low compensation levels. The ability for a father or a mother, or the main bread earner, to take that parental leave is a difficulty if there is a gap. It is a stumbling block to people availing of it. The lack of flexibility on the timing is also an issue as are the cultural norms, as I mentioned earlier. This extension of two weeks to five weeks is very important. I am really glad that the Minister has extended it for the first two years. It makes it more flexible and more available to parents. The Government is very committed to ensuring that every child gets the best possible start in life. Supporting parents to spend more time with their children is a huge part of that. This five weeks will help mothers and fathers to take that precious time with their child in the first couple of years.

We need a stronger State childcare system. What part of our children's lives do we put out to private care? We do not do that with education in the main or at third level unless it is the parents' choice to put the child through private education. This has been the issue from the beginning of the State. Our Constitution says that the mother's place is in the home and they are the home carers, so why would we ever have created a childcare system to allow women to go out to work.

I welcome another commitment today by the Government and by the Minister to early learning and care, ELC. It is very clear that the Government has that commitment. The announcement today regarding the establishment of a joint labour committee for ELC and the school-age childcare sector is another step along the way. Our childcare workers are usually women and they deserve the best quality and the best career progression. As the Minister said earlier, there is always a distance to travel. This measure, however, marks a very important milestone towards improved pay and conditions for the workers in that sector.

The Bill responds to a specific commitment in the programme for Government and it is very welcome. It is a lot done but more to do, as was said on a few occasions. It is a very progressive step forward and I look forward to this growing in order to ensure that parents are looked after, supported and encouraged to do whatever they want, be it in the home or at work. I thank the Minister.

I support the Minister in not wearing a tie. I have gone all my adult life without wearing a tie and it has not impeded my competence and capacity.

I really welcome this Bill. It corrects and extends the benefits that are much needed. The Bill is essential. I am delighted that we are bringing parents' leave and benefit to five weeks, that we are extending the claim period up to two years, which is very progressive, and that the Minister is bringing it into being really quickly, which is to be welcomed. I know that people are relying on it for after Easter. I have had lots of emails from people asking if this will be in by Easter, so they will be delighted with this news.

I know that same-sex parents of adopted children were inadvertently omitted previously and that we are catching up on the outcomes of the marriage referendum. I acknowledge that this was hurtful. I am really delighted that we stand in a place of equality today and that same-sex male parents are getting exactly what they deserve through that recognition.

The entirety of the Bill, therefore, sensitively extends leave and transforms it into a child-centred, equality-based provision. All leave provided with regard to a child coming into the life of his or her parents, either by birth or subsequently by adoption, is centred around the care of the child. Its purpose is to bolster and support equality of caregiving by the parents of that child.

In a week when we marked International Women's Day, it is particularly welcome that we are introducing a Bill which will ensure an entitlement to leave is shared among both parents. Indeed, the provisions of the Bill allow for up to four people to obtain State-aided leave with regard to a child, including the parents and their partners, if the parents are in new relationships within the requisite timeframe. Such provisions encourage the re-entry of women into the workplace and set a societal norm about fathers being liable for the care of their children. My husband has never referred to his care of our child as babysitting. He is probably reasonably unusual in that because I have heard men all too frequently referring to the care of their own children as babysitting. The care of the child is an obligation of both parents, regardless of gender. Just because a one gives birth to a child, it should not render any obligation of sole care.

The Bill is about transposing that EU directive of the work-life balance for parents and carers. It is needed, regardless of our EU obligations. I note that we are going beyond the requirements as per the set-out timeframe in transposing this into law here and now. We are not obliged to transpose it into domestic law until August 2022, and there is a two-year extension for its implementation. We still have some work to do on it. I am not ignoring that at all. I appreciate that we are not time-wasting either. We are moving quickly on it and implementing the requirements well in advance of the obligations. Therefore, I look forward to when its provisions are put in to their fullest extent.

I note the original directive states that:

Work-life balance policies should contribute to the achievement of gender equality by promoting the participation of women in the labour market, the equal sharing of caring responsibilities between men and women, and the closing of the gender gaps in earnings and pay. Such policies should take into account demographic changes including the effects of an ageing population.

I will leave it to my colleague, Senator Currie, to speak about this because it is, by far, her area of expertise. It is good to note that, however.

I will end on a highlight, although I have one problem. First of all, the rate of benefit inhibits people from taking this up. We will have a problem here. I have reservations about people actually benefiting from the leave because the rate of parental benefit is reasonably low. It would, therefore, prejudice the income of a family who were to avail of it if the provision were not there within their workplace. From that point of view, we need to look towards that in the long-term. While this Bill is progressive, we still need to consider that.

My biggest disappointment is that there is no provision in the Bill for lone parents. The provisions for parental leave can be claimed by up to four other people, that is, biological parents and their partners in circumstances where the biological parents are no longer together. I appreciate that the objective is to ensure the care is shared and does not fall to one parent. The criteria for claiming parental leave seem to set a pretty low bar if we look at cohabitees or civil partnerships. In fact, the provision for proving that the child is actually being cared for by a person not availing of the leave in circumstances where the parents are no longer living together is questionable.

The threshold for parental leave is extraordinarily low when more than one person is claiming it but a lone parent who seeks more than five weeks is denied the leave. That provision appears to be a paternalistic provision that has been put in place to make sure that more than the mother takes leave, and I respect the fact it is an EU driven provision and not one that belongs to the Minister. However, if the mother needs the leave to care for her child, then she cannot avail of it. In the main, I completely acknowledge that one-parent families can be both male and female led but the vast majority of them are women. With the two-year extension, we have mothers who need to avail of the additional leave and who are parenting alone for a multiplicity of reasons. It could be that this includes women who have stood up to domestic violence, suffered a bereavement or a relationship break-up where the child has been weaponised by the other parent, which is all too frequent an occurrence. In those circumstances that lone parent is confined to five weeks with no supports and cannot nominate a mother or a co-habitee who they are not in an intimate relationship with to benefit from the extra five weeks. I think the criteria are a little unfortunate and I implore that if we are to liberate mothers, we ensure we do not inadvertently discriminate against them. I think also that this legislation is a lost opportunity. Throughout the pandemic I have heard from and engaged with individuals, and the organisations that represent them. One Family has been the main one and it has been extraordinary in advocating for a balance to be struck.

My colleague is going to identify the following issue but I want to mention it. While I am critical of the threshold and of who else can avail of the leave, and I stood here last Monday and gave out about the situation around surrogacy and the Minister was very kind and tolerant about it, the chink of light that I have found is if one is a spouse, co-habitee or civil partner of the biological father, then one will be able to avail of leave under this legislation that people, heretofore, for their surrogate-born children have been unable to avail of. For the first time, I see a possibility that the intended mother in these situations will get five weeks leave by virtue of their relationship with the father. I want to acknowledge and put on record my appreciation of that positive measure.

I welcome the Minister to the House. On behalf of the Labour Party, I welcome the Bill of which we are very supportive. Indeed, the Bill has cross-party support, which is very welcome. As Senators said, and the Minister has acknowledged, the legislation is eagerly awaited and anticipated, in particular by parents who look forward to parental leave being extended from two to five weeks paid leave and, of course, to the expansion of the category of children who are covered from the first year to the first two years of their lives. Those are very welcome changes. The other changes the Minister outlined are also very welcome. The Bill will rectify, as he said, the anomaly in the current legislation that left married male same-sex couples unable to avail of adoptive leave. Indeed, also welcome is the removal of the presumption that the adoptive mother is the primary caregiver. That is a very positive and progressive change, on which I commend the Minister.

It is unfortunate that we have had a short time to consider the legislation given how recently it was published and the changes made. I wish to express my thanks to the Library and Research Service. I am sure that all of us have found its briefing very helpful. The service has certainly given us a good contextual background. Many of us are very conscious of the background to this legislation.

The Minister indicated that he will table amendments. Perhaps he might clarify whether it will be on Committee Stage in the Seanad or at a later Stage that he will table amendments to bring in the personal injury guidelines. In keeping with comments I and others have made during many debates on legislation, it is unfortunate that we are going to see totally unrelated amendments included in this very important Family Leave Bill. I know that these are pressing matters. We certainly will not oppose the amendments because we recognise their urgency and, indeed, recognise the urgency of this legislation itself. However, as a matter of good legislative and drafting practice, it is not ideal that these amendments would be in a different and unrelated Bill.

Others have pointed out that this Bill is being introduced in International Women's Week. It is an important measure for gender equality although I agree with Senator Pauline O'Reilly's comments that childcare should not be seen as a burden, and nor should it be seen as a burden for women. It is frustrating that that language tends to creep in. We know that across the EU generally, men have a lower uptake of parental leave than women where it is available to both. It is positive that parent's leave is available on a gender neutral basis but we know that men have a lower uptake than women and we might say it is due to the two "Cs". Cash and culture are the two big issues that tend to create a situation where mothers are more likely to take the leave than fathers. The culture is that it is less common for fathers to take leave. The fact that men tend to earn more than women means that it is more of a financial loss, certainly to a heterosexual couple, where the man takes leave and the woman does not. That raises issues about the rate of pay of the leave.

While I welcome this legislation very much, we need to recognise the need for other changes, including a cultural change. I ask the Minister if the Government has a proposal to highlight the fact that this leave will be available on a gender neutral basis, to try to challenge stereotypes whereby childcare is always seen as a woman's responsibility and, in parallel with that, to address the cultural barriers, and the cash barrier, to men taking parental leave. I am very glad that the Minister indicated in the Seanad on Monday that he will be bringing forward the amendments to the gender pay gap information legislation within the next two weeks because that is a real gap in our laws at present. We simply do not have a legislative means for tackling this ongoing issue where women are paid less than men.

I want to address a couple of other issues around family leave more generally. I was recently involved in the Athena SWAN gender equality benchmarking process at third level, in Trinity College. One of the issues that arises across all third level institutions, although it is not unique to third level, is the issue not just of a right of return to work after availing of parental or maternity leave but how employees are treated when they return. That is crucial. We see in academia, for example, a pattern whereby those who return from family or maternity leave, typically women, miss out on promotional opportunities because they lack research time. They are straight back into full teaching and administration loads and they lack the time to carry out the research. Particularly when people are in their 30s is what makes the difference between promotion or non-promotion in academic settings.

That is just one example of a particular workplace setting but, undoubtedly, across different professions, from research I and others have done in law, we have seen the phenomenon of postponed parenting. Women are putting off having children until their career has got to a certain stage but then missing out on promotional opportunities because while rights to return to work are enshrined in law, there is no right to any phased or incremental lessening of duties on return. I put that out there. I am not sure if legislation is the appropriate place in which to make provision for that. There is a real awareness about this in the Athena SWAN charter and a growing tendency now for different institutions to adopt measures to facilitate women returning from maternity leave, or employees returning from parental leave, to buy out teaching time or to make some provision to ensure they have not missed out on promotional opportunities because they took leave. That is about culture also and it is a difficult one to address through legislation.

I want to address the issue that Senator Pauline O'Reilly mentioned. I thank her for expressing her support for a Bill I introduced in the House on Monday, which I hope we will have time to debate over the next month or so. It is a new reproductive health related leave Bill that I introduced having been inspired to do so by the work of Councillor Alison Gilliland and the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO. I spoke about this on Monday. This is a Bill to provide, for the first time, specific recognition for those employees who need to take time off work because they have suffered early miscarriage or for other reproductive health related reasons, for example, to undergo IVF treatment.

While our Bill is gender-neutral in its framing, this is a gendered issue because it impacts more upon women. We know from European Court of Justice case law that it is unlawful gender discrimination to discriminate against a woman who has taken sick leave to undergo IVF treatment. The INTO research shows there is a need to give specific recognition to this. We have, therefore, brought forward a Bill to provide for up to ten days' leave for reproductive health-related reasons and up to 20 days' leave for early miscarriage which, prior to the 24th week of pregnancy, is not recognised specifically in law. I ask the Minister to look favourably upon this matter. Senator Doherty has spoken favourably about this principle and we would be very happy to work with the Government in trying to get it into law, as will the INTO.

I very much welcome that we will see provision in law for Ministers to take maternity leave. I do not believe there is any need for constitutional amendment. Article 28.12 of the Constitution gives ample scope for this to be done simply through legislation. This is a progressive step and is in keeping with the spirit of the Bill, which I again welcome.

I welcome the Bill and the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, to the House. Given its length, we were not given much time with the legislation, which was only published yesterday. I am concerned that Members were only given a day to look over it. While we were given notice, the Bill was not provided to Senators until yesterday.

In October 2019, the House debated the Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill. A number of Senators were present, including Senator Norris who, unfortunately, is not here today as I know he is interested in this issue and has been outspoken on it. At the time, we were told by the then Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, that provisions to remove the anomaly whereby same-sex couples were unable to claim State benefits could not be included in the Bill. Unfortunately, the Government had announced such a measure approximately six months previously, as reported in an article in The Irish Times. According to the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, it was not included in the Bill because the Government wanted to get key provisions that had been announced in budget 2020 that same month signed into law and operational by 1 November of that year. While acknowledging that the anomaly existed, the Minister of State admitted that those who were still affected would have to wait. I thought it was ironic that the Minister of State’s explanation centred around not wanting to keep other parents waiting for promised increases that were announced in the budget of that year. In the lead-up to that debate, as I mentioned, there were widespread reports in the media that the anomaly affecting same-sex couples from accessing parental leave would be addressed. It was only on that day, in unscripted remarks by the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, that Senator Norris and I learned that this was not to be the case. We were faced with supporting a Bill which had obvious good points but which would also result in same-sex couples having to wait for full equality yet again.

The 2019 debate took place four years after the marriage equality referendum and I believe the issue was raised six times only to come to nothing. In November 2019, we were told the anomaly would be remedied within a short number of weeks in a civil law Bill, but that did not happen either. For this reason, I commend the Minister on bringing this measure forward and giving it the priority it deserves.

I did not come here to give a history lesson but to set out what happened because we need to learn the lessons of the past. Long after the photo shoots for marriage equality, people’s rights still need to be recognised and sometimes that costs money. Whether it is this issue or the ancillary recommendations of repealing the eighth amendment, we need to finish the job.

One of the key provisions of this Bill, the extension of paid parental leave from two to five weeks, was announced in last year's budget.

We have been waiting five months for this legislation to emerge. Options such as leaving children with elderly relatives or neighbours have not been available due to the pandemic. Even when childcare providers are open, they mostly do not cater for children under the age of one. I do not need to tell anyone, particularly parents, that this has been a hard time for families. This delay has had a major impact on parents and some of them have taken unpaid leave. The Minister mentioned, according to media reports, that the Bill is to apply retrospectively. We welcome that. Am I right in saying that most people who had children in the past two years, and who have already taken the two weeks of leave introduced in November 2019, would be entitled to additional weeks if their child was born in late 2019 or 2020? I see the Minister nodding his head in agreement.

We agree with the proposal to add two new members to the board of Tusla. That measure has to be matched by increased accountability, being cognisant of the conduct of Tusla in the past which has impacted on public confidence in the organisation. There is a job of work for the board to do in improving transparency and accountability across the whole organisation. As we all know, many dedicated people work for Tusla who do incredibly important work in supporting and shaping our young people's lives. The board has a responsibility to all those who use their service and their employees to lead an organisation that is fair, accountable and transparent.

In the week of International Women's Day, I have heard some people say that the necktie is a noose around their necks and an arrow to draw attention to the crotch area. I personally think that ties can be stylish. I often wear one but when I do not, I do not feel any less like a man and I do not feel the need to wear one because I am a man.

The Senator is always confident in his style. I call Senator Currie.

I welcome the Minister. It has been so long since I have seen him. There are many positives to focus on in this Bill and there are areas to build on as well. On the positive side, it extends parental leave from two to five weeks' paid leave, and that will include the first two years of the child's life in order to cover the parents who had children during Covid lockdown and restrictions. We certainly owe them recognition for what they went through. The Bill fixes a gap in the legislation for same-sex marriages and gives parents a choice as to who takes adoptive leave. Parental leave is the kind of support we need more of in legislation because bringing that in begins to acknowledge some of the barriers women face when they become mothers.

I say that against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the stubborn social norms it has highlighted. It has shown us that women still take on the bulk of unpaid work and care and that that has a knock-on effect on their economic participation and equal opportunities. Some 94% of those looking after homes or families in 2019 were women. Figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, tell us that just over 9% of women, compared with 0.4% of men, took unpaid leave during the pandemic. Some 45% of women provide care for children and older adults, compared to just 29% of men. Across the EU during the pandemic almost one third of women with young children found it hard to concentrate on their work, compared to just over one sixth of men in the same household situation. Women are more likely to feel tense, lonely and depressed than men in the same age range who have children. They are more vulnerable to unemployment and redundancy and the past year is more likely to have impacted on their career progression.

Ireland has serious issues when it comes to sharing the care and we need a variety of initiatives to change that. No one single policy will do it but things like a willingness to prioritise families and parents, maternity, paternity and parental leave, work flexibility, accessible and affordable childcare across the board and local planning and transport all matter.

I advocate for flexible workplaces because they move away from a one-size-fits-all model of work that juggling parents cannot always mould their lives around. Flexibility should be a right, not a perk, that comes with boundaries and respects the work-life balance.

If we are going to level the playing field in work, we will have to level the playing field at home too. I commend the purpose of the legislation to facilitate parents who are employees to balance paid employment and their responsibilities to their children in a fair and equitable way. I commend it on promoting the participation of mothers in the workforce and enabling relevant parents to share the responsibility of providing or assisting in the provision of care on an equal basis.

I had hoped there would be an opportunity to do more directly for lone parents and to provide them with the additional leave of two parents when they are doing the job of both. I understand that the leave is for parents in their own right, regardless of whether they are in a relationship, and that it is for the individual parent rather than allocation per family. Can we treat all parents the same, however, when their circumstances are not the same? Lone parents in Ireland are five times more likely to experience deprivation than two-parent families, a rate that is the second highest in Europe. Up to 85% of lone parents are women. Lone parents will only face more hardship and poverty but they are less likely to remain in the workforce.

I have spoken to the Minister about this quite a few times. I thank him for his time and consideration. I know the Department's view is that the legislation cannot be amended to give additional direct leave to lone parents. I am disappointed that it cannot but I recognise the flexibility that up to four parents can avail of it. In some European countries, leave in the context of lone parents can be taken by a family member such as a grandparent. Like my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, has said, what other flexibility could be there to open that up? What can be done to provide more support to lone parents, as other European countries are doing?

The reports yesterday about the impact of home working and crèches were a bit alarmist. Remote working is not a substitution for childcare. If anything has shown that, it is the experiences of women over the past year in trying to juggle everything. Senator Mullen asked what is the end goal that the Minister is trying to achieve. The end goal is choice for parents in how they raise their children and lead their lives. Choice is backed up by equal opportunities, respect for diversity and rearing children in a loving environment where everyone gets to reach their full potential.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber today and thank him for the work he has been doing on this matter over the past number of weeks. I also want to thank him for facilitating Zoom meetings and briefings he gave beforehand. They were very helpful and more Ministers should be encouraged to do this.

I welcome this Bill to increase a parent's leave from two weeks to five weeks over a 24-month period. Most importantly, it includes same-sex couples as part of this provision. This was long overdue and is very much to be welcomed.

I must declare a personal interest in this issue. This leave for parents will be backdated to 1 November 2019. I had my first child on 11 December 2019. I timed it well, as I said to my wife. This has been a hot topic for a constituent of mine who lives in our house. She has been bringing it up constantly about when this measure will come into force. She, like many mothers, has had a difficult time over the past year of not having what one would describe as a normal maternity leave.

What has been brought in today is recognition of that as well as recognition of joint parental leave between two parents. It has been an incredibly difficult time for parents and support such as this will be welcomed. Listening to anyone I have spoken with and the way I look at it myself, this leave is for the child, not really for the parent. I do not know of any parent who says "Jeepers, I have got five weeks off, that is brilliant". It is not about that but about connecting with the child. Other Senators spoke about how it is predominantly seen as something done by females. There is sense in that. When we talk about this leave, I am entitled to it myself but I have not thought about taking it. It is nothing to do with the stereotype of the father just not taking the time off but more to do with politics in general. I suppose most people in this Chamber would relate to that. It is there for the child. Senator Currie spoke about parental leave if one is a lone parent, so that five weeks would become ten weeks. That is how we should look at this leave, in that it is for the child rather than for parents.

The Minister might comment on the other matter I wish to touch on, which we might need to look at in the future and relates to shared parental leave over a longer period of time. It is done in other countries, including the UK, where there are 50 weeks of shared parental leave, 37 weeks of which are paid. It is done in Germany where there are 12 weeks of maternity leave but up to 24 months of shared parental leave. In Spain, men used to have 12 weeks but now they have 16 weeks of leave. There is substantial support for both people in a relationship. I know a number of Senators have talked about how sometimes certain people feel like there is an obligation to babysit their own child. I know where that argument is coming from but I do not understand how men could see it as such. It is now 4.55 p.m. and my main concern, once I sit down, is when this debate will finish and whether I can get home before Jamie goes to bed at 8 p.m. I do not understand how people could see it as babysitting or anything like that.

If we look at this as shared parental leave going forward for a longer stretch, it has a knock-on effect in the shape of unconscious bias for employment of staff. When looking at a male and a female looking for a job, there is an unconscious bias, but if there was shared paternity leave for a longer time, that would have a positive impact for women. We should look at what other countries have done and the positive impact this has had in other countries. I think it would be the same in Ireland. I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill. It is welcome in my family.

I am delighted to support this Bill. It is important that the Government is extending parental leave and adoptive leave for married same-sex couples and that we are supporting the work of Tusla by increasing the board membership. Having a child is the greatest life-changing thing that any of us can do and the riskiest and most ambitious thing that any of us can aspire to. I think it is important, as a republican, that every child has an equal opportunity for the best start in life.

That we are supporting parents to try to give their children the best start in life is to be welcomed and I hope all parties will support it.

In the short term, once this Bill is passed, parents will be immediately able to avail of it over a two-year period - I appreciate and welcome it is being backdated - but in the longer term, we will see the benefits of this because it will start to change the dynamic and the way society thinks about who is doing the caring. I questioned the Minister on whether the care - the extended three weeks - could be given all to one parent and he explained that it is deliberately being given to both parents to deliberately enable both parents to avail of or lose it. That is a really positive intervention in terms of this legislation because it is only when one has had to mind a child for 12 or 24 hours, seven days a week, with the unpredictability, the entertainment and, honestly, the exhaustion that comes with it, that one gets an appreciation of what is involved in minding another human being. It can be the most rewarding, frustrating and exhausting experience but, truly, it is something that all of us as adults should be, I think, obliged to take on because if one can manage to look after a young child, take care of him or her, and ensure that the child is happy and healthy, one will have no greater reward in life.

I commend the Minister and the Government on delivering on this promise and I wish him well with the Bill.

I welcome the Minister. It is great to see this Bill before us and I am delighted to support it. What we are looking at here is increasing the duration of parents' leave from two to five weeks' paid leave for parents of children under the age of one. It shows the Government's support to young families. I also welcome the support for same-sex couples to avail of adoptive leave.

The Minister also mentioned increasing the number of board members of Tusla from five to nine. Out of curiosity, I would be interested to know the gender balance there. I assume it will be a positive, balanced one. The Government is trying to reach 40% female participation across all its boards.

This is in our programme for Government and it is in budget 2021. It shows our commitment to supporting families, particularly during this special time in their lives. We are supporting both men and women and we are changing our working lives to make sure that we have a better work-life balance. It means that jobs are protected when parents take this leave. What it comes down to is that one will not lose one's job by taking leave that one needs to take.

As a member of the Joint Sub-Committee on Mental Health, I am conscious that well-being is so important and how, after a person has this life-changing moment of having a child or adopting a child, one should be given support by society to do the best that one can and have the time to do it, and to enjoy that special time. I am sure there is much recovery involved as well in trying to deal with something new. It is important, from a well-being and mental health point of view, that we are doing this.

It is also about reducing the gender pay gap, which Senator Bacik mentioned. I am looking forward to the seeing information that Senator Bacik referenced on the gender pay gap.

I am also my party's spokesperson on education and further and higher education. It is difficult at third level. There are so many who are in contract positions and when one is funded through an award of non-Exchequer funding, sometimes that does not include maternity leave. This is something crucial that we must look at. When the Minister spoke with us here on International Women's Day on Monday last, he talked through everything that is being done in a number of Departments to promote and encourage positive practices in the workplace that will encourage and support women, in particular. Of course, men too, but here I believe that it is the case that it negates against women.

We talked about teaching buyout, which Senator Bacik mentioned. Teaching buyout is something I am very interested in as well at third level to support women, in particular, doing research and how to focus their time doing research. I am speaking to this because I worked previously in NUI Galway. I would have known many people in the research area and I am sure that this applies to many different roles as well. How do we ensure, when people are taking leave and when they come back into work, that the key things they need to do to ensure their career progression are done?

We also talk about leadership roles for women. That must also be looked at when they come back into work. When engaged in third level education, for example, one must be able to conduct research. If a people do not have research or peer-reviewed papers to their name, it will be harder for them to progress into professorship roles. This applies to many parts of business. A person may have been out of the loop, perhaps for a couple of weeks, and then suddenly, in pre-Covid times, that person was unable to go to a conference or his or her name was not down for it. In our businesses, we need to make sure diversity and equality practices within work are being maintained.

Finally, I support this Bill and that childcare be more balanced. My colleague, Senator Currie, spoke in detail about how childcare is not particularly just for one parent but is for both and that our cultural and societal norms will change. In introducing this Bill, the Minister is part of that changing of our societal and cultural norms. I hope it will happen swiftly. The Minister mentioned that it will be April 2021. I very much welcome it. My areas of interest are in how we support women when they come back into work. Perhaps, therefore, considerations around that too would be interesting.

The Minister is very welcome to the Chamber. At the outset, I thank him for giving us his time yesterday for an update regarding the legislation. It was certainly very welcome.

I welcome this legislation as a step forward in offering help to families in terms of balancing work and family life. As we know, this legislation extends parent's leave and benefit from two weeks to five weeks for each parent and, of course, takes on board other circumstances where there may be another co-parent, or indeed, two co-parents within a situation.

It extends the period in which leave can be taken from the first year of a child's life to the first two years, dating back to 1 November 2018. I know many of us have received correspondence and emails over the last ten months, particularly from young mothers who really felt they needed the opportunity to have some extra time. None of us can consider the last 12 months as any type of normal time.

As we know, this leave is non-transferable. It is aimed at supporting working families with additional leave at an incredibly busy time for everybody involved. It is also important to note that it is there to encourage parents to share the childcare burden and ensure that dads also get to spend time with their newborn children in the crucial early years.

It is really important to note that included in the proposals are amendments to the adoptive leave legislation, which address the present anomaly whereby married male same-sex couples are excluded from the leave. I thank the Minister for his work in that regard. In terms of equality, we must absolutely make sure that everything is equality proofed.

It is particularly timely that we are discussing this today, having just marked International Women's Day on Monday and having had the opportunity to spend two hours in the Chamber speaking about the impact Covid-19 has had on women. There is no doubt that it has had a disproportionate and profound impact on women, particularly in the areas of work and care. It has most certainly exacerbated many existing inequalities in society, including inequality that disadvantages women. The assumption that the majority of the childcare burden falls on the mother has held women back for far too long. We are facing a situation, although it has been rectified at this moment, where our Minister for Justice had no legal access to maternity leave. However, we spent last Monday telling women that they can achieve their dreams if they get up, dress up and show up etc. It is, therefore, really important that we are looking at this now. It is important to note that we cannot just utter those platitudes once a year and then leave women to shoulder a disproportionate caring role for the other 364 days of the year.

In April 2020, a CSO survey found that 22% of women, compared with 15% of men, are caring for a dependent family member or friend and have increased childcare because of the Covid-19 pandemic. CSO data published in February 2021 showed 46.9% of female respondents reported low overall life satisfaction, which was over 10% higher than the male rate, which was 36.2%. There is an urgent need to match our policies to the reality of people's lives. Further work on developing family leave options will encourage greater sharing of the care load and will assist with addressing the assumptions that women are always the primary caregiver.

As I mentioned earlier, it is important that this law will also give leave to male same-sex couples who previously had been excluded from this benefit. LGBT Ireland has been vocal in calling for this amendment to be made because excluding a section of citizens in society is completely intolerable. I am glad to see the situation finally being rectified to reflect the diverse society in Ireland in 2021.

I agree with the comments that have been made about the financial aspects of this leave and the fact that we need to do more for lone parents who are raising their children. However, all in all, I think it is a good, progressive Bill and I commend the Minister's work on it.

Before I start, I had better assure my Government colleagues that I have not joined the Opposition benches; it is just the seat I have been assigned.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is the first time I have had the opportunity to engage with him on legislation and I join with others in complimenting him on bringing forward this Bill, which is going to have a positive and profound impact on many families and individuals who are fortunate enough to welcome a child into their care, be it through birth or adoption. As has been said by others, the legislation will provide for a welcome increase in the amount of paid parents' leave and benefit from two weeks to five. It will also make provision for male same-sex couples to avail of adoptive leave for the first time and will allow every couple to nominate a partner to avail of adoptive leave that is presently only available to the female partner within the couple.

While my wife and I do not have any kids, at least not yet anyway, many of my friends, colleagues and people with whom I have grown up do and there is no doubt in my mind that the last Government and this Government have been committed to trying to improve things in this area to ensure that children have the best possible start in life. It is important to pause and reflect on from where we have come. The changes that have been made in this area over the past number of years are positive. We now have two weeks' paternity leave, introduced in 2016, and which can be taken at any time in the first six months after birth or placement in the case of adoption. We have two weeks' parents' leave, which was introduced for both parents and is now being extended to five weeks as part of this Bill. We also have unpaid parental leave, which was extended from 22 to 26 weeks last September. That can be availed of until the 12th birthday of a child or 16th birthday in the case of a child with a disability. Extraordinary progress has been made, and not before time, but we cannot stop there. I know that we, as a Government, are not going to stop there but are going to continue to make strides in this area in the years ahead. I look forward to engaging with the Minister and other colleagues to improve the lot of individuals and families even further in the years ahead.

The pandemic has been an exceptionally difficult time for all, not least for couples and individuals who have had children.

Restrictions placed in hospitals when mothers are having their children have been very difficult for many who have experienced it, particularly where there may have been Covid outbreaks in hospitals. There is also the issue of not having the support network and bubble of family and friends around them at what should be such a joyous time. It is only right and proper that it is being backdated to 1 November 2019. It is welcome that, as the Minister said in his opening address, the IT systems are being put in place to allow for these retrospective payments once the legislation comes into force.

Before I finish I want to comment on what Senator Bacik mentioned earlier with regard to the Bill being brought forward on leave in the case of miscarriage. It is something we need to make progress on as a Government. It is a very traumatic time for couples who are devastated by the loss of a child. I would like to see progress in this area. This is a very important and welcome Bill. It will have a profound and positive impact on so many families and I commend the Minister on his work in this area.

I thank Senator Cummins for the clarification of his situation. Some of his erstwhile colleagues had assumed he had become Leader of the Opposition as a prize.

We were impressed by his promotion.

I thank the Senators for their contributions and for the positive way in which they have responded to this legislation. I agree that it is very positive. It is a clear step forward in a direction towards supporting all families, recognising our understanding of the role, and that the joy rather than the burden of caring for children should be shared between parents where there are parents, and that parents should be facilitated in as much as possible in doing this. It is something we should seek to achieve.

I want to address a couple of the issues Senators raised. Senators Seery Kearney and Currie raised the issue of lone parents. Senator Currie made a detailed submission to the pre-legislative process and I thank her for it. I have listened carefully to the submissions and I want to make clear that at the heart of the EU work-life balance directive is the idea of non-transferability. What we are doing with this Bill is transposing the directive. As Senators know, when we transpose EU law we are bound to work within the confines of that law. The idea of non-transferability is fundamental to what the work-life balance directive is about, as is the idea that there must be reserved time for each parent. The reason behind this is that if it is given to both but with transferability we can all guess what will happen quite quickly. Unfortunately, it seems to follow that in the vast majority of cases, it ends up being transferred to the mother. This is what we want to mitigate. This is central to the directive. We are transposing the directive with this legislation so we were bound by the non-transferable achieve element.

I am very aware of the additional challenges faced by one-parent families. I had a very good meeting with the One Family organisation. We discussed this issue and certain parts of the national childcare scheme, which falls directly within the ambit of the Department, with regard to how they disadvantages certain one-parent families. It is something I am committed to working on. It also highlighted to me that the way certain elements of labour market activation are designed is almost punitive towards one-parent families.

That is something we as a Government and an Oireachtas should consider addressing. We know one-parent families are at greater risk of poverty. We need to continue to address that through our taxation and welfare systems and the range of services we provide. I am very happy that within the programme for Government there is a commitment to work on the Report on the Position of Lone Parents in Ireland, which was produced by an Oireachtas committee. One Family wanted to see that commitment in the programme for Government and it was included. To the extent that the matter falls within my Department, I will work with Senators across the House to support one-parent families as we go forward. I am conscious that more needs to be done in that area.

As regards Tusla, which was raised by Senator Dolan, currently there are nine members on the board, seven ordinary members, the chair and deputy chair. The ratio of male to female is 5:4 and it has a male chair and female vice chair. As Members will probably know, the chair is Pat Rabbitte, a former colleague of Senator Bacik. The chief executive officer is Bernard Gloster, who has appeared before the joint committee on children.

Senator Warfield raised concerns about issues that have arisen with Tusla in the past. Tusla is an organisation in transition. It has gone through some very difficult times but I am very confident in its transition. Pat Rabbitte and Bernard Gloster provide strong leadership, with Mr. Gloster focused on the day-to-day running of the organisation and Mr. Rabbitte focused on the higher level of governance. Governance is absolutely key to this. Tusla is dealing with children in the most vulnerable of circumstances, as well as adults in various circumstances, including domestic and sexual and gender-based violence. That is why governance of the organisation is so important. It is also important that we provide additional members of the board to support that governance. It is a huge burden and the board must deal with highly complex issues. All of us have probably served on one or two boards in our time, with some of us having probably served on many boards. Given the complexity and seriousness of the issues the board has to deal with, Mr. Rabbitte requested that we provide additional support and I am happy to do that.

The reform agenda in Tusla is a matter on which I have felt strongly since my appointment as Minister in this Department. We provided an additional allocation of €61 million to Tusla this year, the largest increase in funding the organisation has ever received. Over the previous three budgets, it had recorded a deficit every year and had been underfunded. We have addressed that, recognising the importance of Tusla’s role in helping vulnerable children, supporting families and supporting those who have been victims of the domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, particularly during the Covid crisis. We have been able to put those additional supports in place. Tusla funds the sector dealing with domestic, sexual and gender-based violence sector, which will spend the highest amount ever next year. Between 2020 and 2021, an additional €4.7 million will be spent on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services, about which there much concern among Senators.

Senator O’Reilly referred to domestic violence leave. We are not ready for the legislative stage of that. We have engaged in consultations with the social partners, employer groups and trade unions in recent weeks. We met representatives of ICTU and meetings are also taking place with groups working in the area of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence to understand what domestic violence leave and pay benefit legislation will look like and how to design it. Sinn Féin has a Private Members' Bill on that point. We are working hard to develop proposals in this important area and we will publish them later this year. We recognise that poverty is often a barrier to people leaving situations where they are at risk. Even the loss of one week's or two weeks' wages can be a determining factor. If we can take that burden away from victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, that will be a small step.

I note the comments of Senators Warfield and Seery Kearney about the hurt caused by the inequality that existed in the law by which male married same-sex couples were excluded from adopted leave. I do not think that was done deliberately.

It does not take away from the exclusionary nature of our law. As Senator Warfield said, we all celebrated. We all, no doubt, have pictures of ourselves on the day the referendum was carried, or campaigning on it. However, this discrimination was allowed persist, and it is important we are addressing it today. It was very valid of Senator Seery Kearney to recognise the hurt created for some by that inequality persisting.

Regarding the amendment to the personal injuries legislation, Senator Bacik has asked for clarification. We will provide that on Committee Stage. I take the points she made. There are occasions when something needs to be done at speed, but I take her point. I also take Senator Warfield's point about not having a great deal of time to go through this legislation. It did go through detailed pre-legislative scrutiny but there is obviously a difference between heads and the Bill. We are very conscious we want this passed by the Easter recess. Everyone is in agreement on that.

I am very conscious that people are waiting for this. I have number of friends who are texting me on a weekly basis to ensure, as their pregnancy continues, it will be available for them. We are very conscious that families and parents are waiting for this and they need to have certainty in being able to plan their leave schedule. I am delighted that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Heather Humphreys, was able to confirm that leave and benefits will be payable immediately. Once this legislation is passed, we will be able to provide for both leave and benefit.

There was discussion about my tie and it rolled on a bit. Everyone seemed to put a political statement around ties. To disappoint everyone, it is a product of a laundry crisis in the O'Gorman-Healy household caused by my failure to engage in necessary ironing last weekend. There is no greater reason than that. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and look forward to continuing to work with the Seanad as we pass this legislation.

That is the second important clarification today. We are all being very open. I thank the Minister for his response to the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

On Monday, 22 March.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Monday, 22 March 2021.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 22 March.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 22 March 2021.