That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004 and the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 to make provision whereby parents can share their entitlement to maternity leave and to provide for related matters.
In Ireland mothers are entitled to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave and then a further 16 weeks with no pay. In the last two years, fathers are entitled to just two weeks. They can only take up some of the mother's entitlement if she dies. This Bill will allow both parents of a child to share this 26-week period of paid maternity leave between them. This also applies to adoptive parents and to same-sex parents.
This will not create any additional cost to the Exchequer insofar as it simply allows parents to share paid maternity leave that is already in existence and will not affect the two shared weeks of maternity leave that already exist.
This will be of significant benefit to families. First, employers of parents have vastly different arrangements in whether and how they support parents beyond the statutory minimum of 26 paid weeks maternity leave and the State support of €240 per week. In some cases it may be financially beneficial for the second parent to take the leave. Similarly some jobs may lend themselves better to taking periods of leave. For instance, people who are self-employed may find it more difficult to take that maternity leave. Second, facilitating fathers in taking leave facilitates greater involvement by both parents in their children's lives which is of great importance to fathers, mothers and families. Research in 2015 found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that parenting was extremely important to their own identity. The same research found that 48% of fathers felt that they were not doing enough caring. This Bill will facilitate greater equality insofar as it allows both parents to share rearing responsibilities.
I commend this Bill to the House.