I propose to take Questions Nos. 648 and 651 together.
The Department of Justice and Equality have responsibility for maternity leave which is provided for in the 1994 and 2004 Maternity Acts. My Department has responsibility for the associated social welfare payment of maternity benefit which is provided for in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 (as amended). In 2017 it is estimated that my Department will spend approximately €266 million on maternity benefit, in respect of an average of 22,000 recipients per week.
On 3 October 2017 I, together with my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan T.D., announced increased maternity leave and maternity benefit for mothers whose babies are born prematurely.
Under the new arrangements, in addition to the current 26 weeks of paid maternity leave a mother will be entitled to an additional period of maternity leave and benefit where her baby is born prematurely, where she meets the ordinary qualifying criteria for the schemes. The additional period will commence at the end of the standard 26 week period of paid maternity leave. The extended period to be added will be the number of weeks from the baby's actual date of birth up to two weeks before the expected date of confinement which would have been the 37th week of the pregnancy, at which point the current entitlement to 26 weeks leave and benefit would normally begin.
The Government decided that the additional maternity leave and benefit would be available for mothers of premature babies born on or after 1 October 2017. There are no plans to extend the new arrangements to mothers of premature babies born before that date.