Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 15 Nov 2018

Vol. 975 No. 1

Shared Maternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am sharing my time with Deputy Lisa Chambers. On her behalf and on behalf of Fianna Fáil, I am absolutely delighted to introduce this Bill to allow a mother of a newborn child to share her maternity benefit entitlements with the child's other parent if she so wishes. That is an important point to make. This Bill does not propose to force mothers to share any or all of their leave. It merely gives a mother the choice to allocate a portion of her maternity benefit to her child's other parent if she so wishes. In saying that, we fully support a mother's right to choose how much maternity leave to take, how much to share with the child's other parent and when to return to work. This is an important move towards broadening parental choice, promoting gender equality and supporting a healthy work–life balance.

At present, benefits for new parents are relatively poor in Ireland and rank well below those of our European peers.

Mothers are entitled to just 26 weeks of paid maternity benefit and have a further entitlement of 16 weeks unpaid maternity leave. Fathers are entitled to just two weeks of paternity benefit. In our last manifesto, and it is still Fianna Fáil policy, we proposed increasing maternity benefit to 30 weeks, increasing the timeframe in which parental leave can be taken and allowing parents to share leave between them. However, we cannot do that in a Private Members' Bill because it would be an added cost to the Exchequer. This Bill does not mandate that parents must share any or all of the leave. It gives mothers a choice to allocate a portion of their leave to the other parent.

The first years of life are recognised as a critical period for children. Increasingly, young children are raised in families where both parents work, and parents may have less time and energy to invest in their offspring. Maternity and parental leave, as well as paternity leave, are an important accommodation designed to increase the ability of families to balance the needs of the workplace and home. It should be flexible to allow the best possible scenario for each set of parents. A woman may wish to share her maternity leave with the child's other parent for a variety of reasons. Certain jobs are more amenable to periods of leave. For example, a person working in an established company may find it easier to take leave than a self-employed person and certain women may wish to re-enter the workforce earlier. We believe this should be for the mother to decide, while protecting the right to 26 weeks.

Parental leave policies that support fathers' or other partners' involvement are a powerful tool to tackle gender inequality. Studies from numerous countries, including America, Australia, Denmark and the United Kingdom, have demonstrated that fathers who play an active role in their children's lives in the early stages of life are more likely to share in child rearing duties later in life. This in turn reduces the imbalance between men and women in terms of responsibility for domestic duties and supports women's participation in the workforce. Furthermore, surveys demonstrate that many fathers wish to play a more active role in their children's lives but are prevented from doing so by financial and cultural barriers. We hope to address this issue by allowing couples to share maternity benefit between them.

Research in 2015 found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that parenting was extremely important to their identity. The same research found that 48% of fathers felt that they were not doing enough caring and would like to increase the amount of time they spent with their baby. Fathers should be facilitated in this in order to share rearing responsibilities with the mother. Clinical psychologist David Coleman talks a great deal about both parents creating secure attachments with their babies. Securely attached children grow into teenagers and adults with better self esteem, greater resilience, the capacity to establish and maintain friendships and the ability to deal with strong emotions and impulses. He has written about the research studies that suggest that fathers who are involved, nurturing and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs and better linguistic and cognitive capacities. The evidence also shows that toddlers with involved fathers have higher levels of academic readiness and appear to handle the stress and frustrations of schooling better than children with less involved other parents. Most fathers now recognise the importance of their role as an equal co-parent and want to be empowered to devote the time necessary for doing this.

Essentially, this Bill is about choice, flexibility and equality. It aims to maximise flexibility for parents. It gives the mother more choice to make decisions based on her personal circumstances and what works best for her family. If enacted, I have no doubt that the Bill will transform the potential parental entitlements of fathers. The Bill allows both parents of a child to split the maternity leave more evenly. It will not affect the two weeks of paternity leave that are already in place and, significantly, will not place any additional cost on the Exchequer as it does not extend the current timeframe. Our current system of maternity leave is very restrictive. There is no scope for the other parent to extend the two weeks paternity leave unless the leave is taken from the annual leave allocation. The two weeks paternity leave introduced in the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 was available for any child born or adopted on or after September 2016 and can be taken at any time within the first six months. New figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection show that 51,409 fathers have taken up the €240 per week paternity benefit payment over the last two years. Given the progress in fathers taking paternity leave over the last two years I have no doubt that a number would equally take up the possibility of shared maternity leave.

I am happy to introduce this Bill with my colleague, Deputy O'Loughlin. I thank our researcher, Áine Doyle, for her help in drafting the Bill. It has been an extraordinary year for women's rights. There have been many debates in the House on pertinent issues for females during my short time as a Member and this is certainly an issue that affects many women as well as their partners.

I am proud that we live in a modern, progressive society, one that has changed rapidly over the past ten to 15 years. As a result, our work life, society and women's place in the workforce have changed, for the better in my view. However, our maternity laws are outdated and old-fashioned. They restrict women in their ability to enter and stay in the workforce and to make the correct choices for them and their families. Currently, a woman can take up to six months or 26 weeks paid maternity leave, but the father or the other parent can only take two weeks. There is clearly an imbalance that must be addressed. Ultimately, we must increase those entitlements. We want more maternity leave and greater flexibility for families, with parents having the ability to stay at home for longer with their children in the first year after birth. If that is something they wish to do, they should be facilitated to do it by the State and its laws. However, parental choice is lacking at present and women do not have that choice.

We must have a reality check as to what it is like for a woman to work in this country. If she has just become a new mother the option open to her is to take the six months maternity leave. If she does not take the six months maternity leave the other parent cannot take that leave to help her out. The options that remain are relying on family members or paying for extremely costly childcare earlier. It can also be difficult to get a childcare facility to take an infant younger than six months. These are the realities of daily life in this country. Why not give the choice back to parents if a woman decides she does not want to take the six months off? Perhaps she earns more than her partner and it is better for the family financially that she returns to work sooner, so that is what the couple decide to do. What about situations where the mother does not get maternity leave because she is self-employed and runs her own business? That means the maternity leave is lost to the family. Why would we facilitate that? Would it not be better for the family that the father or partner can take time from work, stay at home and take that paid maternity leave rather than having to pay for expensive childcare early and have the child without a parent at home, against the wishes of those parents but because they have no other option?

The Bill does not seek to take away any rights from new mothers. The status quo is maintained and maternity leave rights automatically go the mother unless she chooses to give some of that leave to the other parent. They make that choice together if it is in the interests of their family to do so and it is the choice they want to make. Currently, that choice is taken from them. In modern society many fathers would like the opportunity to take time off and stay at home with their new children.

Currently, all they have is two weeks for that. We want to get to the stage where we can ultimately extend all that leave but we are all very well aware that it costs money to do so. It will be a longer term objective of the country. In the short term, why not make existing entitlements flexible and give parents the choice to decide? They will make the right call for their families and their position.

Can the Minister imagine the transformative impact on women who are working or self-employed if there was this flexibility and the pressure was off? The choice facing women now is to go back to work a bit sooner but then having to pay for childcare because a partner cannot take off the time instead. This puts women in a very difficult position and often forces them to stay out of the work force longer than they may like. Can the Minister imagine the transformative effect this would have in levelling the playing field? Right now a woman of child-bearing age faces certain realities heading to work. If a woman has an interview for a new job and is competing with a male colleague, the assumption is the woman of child-bearing age is more likely to take time off with children than a male applicant. This often goes against female candidates applying for positions. I know a friend who applied for a job but took off her engagement ring before attending the interview. Why did she feel the need to do it? She did so because she knew engagement indicates marriage, which indicates potentially having a baby and taking time off work. Can the Minister imagine heading to an interview where an employer would see the male candidate as just as likely as a female candidate to take time off work to mind children? It would not even be an issue. It is the kind of equal society we need to attain. This is the kind of action that will help women practically in modern Ireland. This is for modern working women who want flexibility and choice.

I emphasise that this is about choice. If a new mother wants to stay at home with her baby, she should be supported in every aspect in doing so. Equally, if a woman does not want to take the full six months or is not entitled to any maternity leave, the State should give every support to that woman too. All we are asking for is equal opportunity and treatment. It is about putting choice back in the hands of parents rather than the Government. Many fathers want this opportunity but feel under extreme pressure to go back to work. Two weeks is a short period and any new father will tell us that the first two weeks absolutely flies and he is back to work before he knows it. There is an opportunity to split the maternity leave if it is in the interests of the family and something they want to do. It would be a really positive option for families.

I know there are some concerns around the potential impact arising from a mother not having enough time at home. Again, the emphasis is on choice and nobody is being forced to do anything. Currently there is no choice. There are issues of European Union law and the necessity to ring-fence some of the leave specifically for new mothers. We are absolutely happy to accept any amendments in that regard and debate them before seeking, with the support of other Members in the House, to make the legislation more robust and workable. We are certainly open to amendments that make the legislation better.

Ultimately, the intention is to broaden choice and flexibility. We have an existing entitlement that is inflexible and does not represent modern Ireland. It does nothing to help women who want to stay in work and perhaps get back to work sooner, or those who do not get maternity leave. Our laws should reflect the fact that the workplace has changed rapidly and women's needs are now different. Why not provide that flexibility and choice rather than leaving the Government make that choice? Let the woman make the choice for herself.

I welcome the opportunity to be able to make the Government's contribution on the Second Stage of Fianna Fáil's Shared Maternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2018. There is a keen interest from all sides of the House to improve the child minding options open to parents of young children, in particular. I am glad of the opportunity to update this House on the work that is under way in the Government to support families and children, something we all agree is a real priority. There is much work going on in this area and tonight is a good opportunity to update the House and reflect on it.

I will first turn to the provisions of this Bill. The Bill as published provides for the amendment of both the Maternity Protection Act 1994 and the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended, with a view to allowing parents to share the minimum period of maternity leave, amounting to 26 weeks of paid leave, which is provided for under section 8(1) of the 1994 Act; provides for notification requirements where a pregnant employee wishes to transfer part of the entitlement to maternity leave to another relevant parent; and makes corresponding amendments to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended, to provide that the entitlement under maternity benefit can be transferred to the relevant parent under a new scheme known as "shared leave benefit", with whom the maternity leave is to be shared. Some people have expressed surprise that the Government might seek to oppose this measure. Unfortunately, the Bill as constructed leaves us with no choice. It is regressive and I genuinely hope that is unintentional. It is legally flawed, with a number of negative consequences for mothers and the relevant parents. It is contrary to best practice and current EU directives.

In the first instance, this Bill is fundamentally regressive. It effectively dilutes the security that mothers and their babies have enjoyed up to now in terms of maternity leave, as maternity leave will become a commodity that is subject to negotiation within couples and between a woman and her employer. Inevitably, this will lead to a position for some women that their employers will put pressure on them to cut short their maternity leave and to return to work. I do not imagine this was intended - I hope not - and I ask Members of the House to see that although there will be other discussions around how employers deal with particular employees in certain circumstances, this is certainly open to abuse. We could not endorse or encourage a culture that places pressure or expectation on a woman to forgo or cut short that precious time with her baby after birth. It is a bonding period and we know that 12 months is a crucial period of the baby's development.

The Bill is also contrary to the objectives of this and previous Governments' early years strategies, which seek to promote breastfeeding for longer periods of up to six months, as recommended by international bodies such as the World Health Organization. This objective is best achieved by retaining maternity leave as a right that is taken by a mother for a set period, currently 26 weeks as provided for under the 1994 Act. In essence, the Bill could, depending on the circumstances, be considered contrary to the needs of breastfeeding mothers.

What surprises me most is how poorly thought through this Bill is. By maintaining a narrow focus on one objective and seeking to change one part of existing legislation, it will undermine many entitlements currently available in a raft of other legislation. The fact that the Bill has not been subject to a consultation process is problematic, as it has significant implications for businesses and families. For example, if the Bill is passed, employers would have to rethink the current system and arrangements for organising maternity leave cover. It might well be more problematic for employers to have more workers absent on maternity leave for shorter periods than for an employer to manage the absence of a female employee for 26 weeks. It may well be easier to get substitute staff for 26 weeks than for 13 weeks.

There are a number of technical flaws in the Bill, which fails to carry over the provisions protecting pregnant workers. It would have to be substantially amended to ensure that the current protections would be retained for women and men availing of the leave. The Bill's approach reduces the protections currently in place concerning maternity leave and would create a position where spending time with children would become an issue of maternal choice rather than a right on which the mother can rely, even in a hostile work situation. For many, it will be seen as diluting a right women have fought hard to get and which they currently enjoy.

If the House will bear with me, I will provide some examples of protections and rights afforded to parents who have recently given birth. Section 14B of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 provides for the postponement of maternity leave in the event the child is hospitalised. As per the provisions of this Bill, should a pregnant employee transfer maternity leave to another person, this leave becomes "shared leave". However, as this is now "shared leave” and not maternity leave, the "relevant parent" in receipt of "shared leave" would not be entitled to postpone the leave if the child is hospitalised, as the Bill does not include any provision to allow for "shared leave” to be postponed and the 1994 Act does not recognise "shared leave". No changes have been suggested to facilitate this.

Also, as a brief overview, Part IV of the 1994 Act provides specific employment protections to mothers on maternity leave.

For example, some of these protections prohibit being terminated or suspended from employment, being unfairly treated if maternity leave is taken during probation, during an apprenticeship or while on training and includes the right to return to employment and to suitable similar work on the expiry of maternity leave. Under the Bill, maternity leave that is transferred to the relevant parent becomes shared leave for the purpose of the Act, and, as such, all of the protections provided for under Part IV of the 1994 Act would not apply to that relevant parent as the Bill makes no provision for the employment rights and protections of those absent from work on shared leave.

Furthermore, the provisions of the Bill would result in the State being entirely non-compliant with long-standing EU legislation concerning the protection of workers who recently gave birth or who are breastfeeding. The Bill breaches EU Directive 92/85/EEC, which introduced measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. The directive requires that member states provide for a continuous period of maternity leave of at least 14 weeks to be allocated to a pregnant employee before and-or after the date of birth. Ireland has long been compliant with this requirement, as we provide 26 weeks of maternity leave, and would not envisage breaching or breaking this directive. However, under the Bill, if it were passed, the State would be non-compliant with the requirements of the directive because it requires that member states provide a continuous period of 14 weeks leave to the pregnant employee and not to anybody else. If it is not bad enough that it could disadvantage breastfeeding mothers, the Bill would result in infringement proceedings being taken by the European Commission through the European Court of Justice. As it would be a clear-cut breach of the directive, the infringement proceedings would result in significant financial penalties being levelled against the State.

There would be implications for the Exchequer as the Bill would require that my Department develop essentially a brand new system and scheme to enable claimants to share a social insurance payment. This would incur IT and administrative costs in developing the new system and its operation. It would take significant time to implement and it would need to go behind a long list of progressive measures already in the queue. Suffice it to say, in seeking to provide one reform, the Bill undermines many existing benefits that families, and particularly mothers, enjoy.

The Government supports the fact that parents want choice, flexibility and the opportunity to spend more time with their children, and we believe the provision of family-related leave is one of the most important areas needed to create a balance between family and working life. However, supporting parents and families is not just about providing additional leave in isolation but rather it is ensuring a range of supports are in place. Deputies will recall, for instance, that as part of the budget my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, announced an €89 million increase for childcare from 2019. Next year, the State will investment €576 million of taxpayers' money to support childcare.

I am also pleased that we have delivered on another commitment under the programme for Government for families. The Deputies will be aware that free pre-schooling provided under the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme has been extended since this autumn, and all children will be eligible for two full years of free pre-school education before transitioning to primary school. These are impressive achievements and the Government is rightly proud of them and committed to helping the families of children with disabilities. In this regard, the Government has committed an additional €10 million through the access and inclusion model to ensure that children with disabilities can fully participate in the programme.

In recent years, the Department of Justice and Equality has also been instrumental in improving available supports to parents. The House will recall the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, extended parental leave from 14 to 18 weeks, demonstrating the commitment of successive Fine Gael Governments to improving the supports available to parents.

The Government introduced the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act, which provides two weeks' paid paternity leave for fathers on the birth of their baby. In 2017, which was the first full year of the programme, almost 27,000 new daddies availed of the leave and benefit afforded under the Act, and the figures I released last week show that 51,400 daddies have availed of the scheme since its inception. This level of take-up of paternity leave is a positive development and represents a culture change. This is something we need to build on and grow. We do not need to do this at the expense of taking from mammies who are at home bonding with their babies.

The House will also recall that around this time last year, one of my first acts as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection was to introduce legislation to extend maternity leave and maternity benefit in the case of premature birth. More recently, as part of this year's budget, the Government announced the introduction of a new paid parental leave and benefit scheme, which will be administered by the Department and will commence in 2019. The scheme will initially provide for two weeks of paid, non-transferable leave per parent, with a view to expanding it up to seven weeks in the coming years. Deputies will appreciate this new paid parental leave fulfils the commitment in the programme for partnership Government to increase paid parental leave during the first year of a child's life.

The Government and the Deputies share the common goal that greater support and flexibility must be provided to families and it is Government policy to support fathers to assume a greater share of caring responsibilities for their children through the introduction of paid parental leave. The establishment of paid parental leave will enable fathers to become more involved in the care of their young babies without compromising any existing right and entitlement that a woman has.

The Government recognises that some women, particularly those who are self-employed, as has been mentioned, might gain from the proposal to share some element of their maternity leave. However, I would not be in favour of rushing into legislation that could have serious detrimental impacts on mammies. Furthermore, I am unsure as to the level of demand these proposed changes have sprung from. The officials can recall only one representation being made to the Department in the past two years.

Rather than proceed with the Bill, the Government feels that a proper consultation should take place to unpick and revisit the provisions of the 1994 Act. It would be prudent to establish in the first instance whether there is a problem and, if so, what exactly it is and what we need to do to address it without taking away the hard fought entitlements of mammies in this country.

Everybody in the House, whether male or female, or Government or Opposition, shares the objective of wanting to support families. The Government and all Members are committed to providing every support we can for parents and families. The Government's key initiative in this policy area is the introduction and extension of paid parental leave for both parents. Our aim is to give more leave and not take away a mammy's special time with her baby.

The Government will oppose this Bill, not least because of the ideas I have laid out and because there are fundamental technical and legal issues that makes the Bill's provisions unworkable. It does not take cognisance of existing provisions in the 1994 Act, it breaches long-standing EU directives and it removes employment protections afforded to parents who take leave following the birth of their baby. In view of the fundamental flaws in the principle of the Bill, I do not consider that it can be rectified by reasoned amendments. It is the Government's position that we would convey completely the wrong signal if we allowed it to proceed.

I am sure that none of us wants to introduce measures that would negatively impact on families. The Government believes that the best way to proceed would be to have a consultation process, perhaps through the committee, to find out the prevalence of the issue the Deputies are trying to resolve, and I accept their bona fides, and come up with a more practical, less regressive and more progressive response to it.

I thank the Minister for such a comprehensive response. She does not seem to like the Bill. I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for its research material, which is very useful. One of its conclusions about the Bill proposed by my colleagues, Deputies O'Loughlin and Lisa Chambers, is that it seeks to adopt a similar approach to that taken in the UK. The Library and Research Service states that while it was not yet clear whether the Bill would obtain the support of the Government - that is clear now - it is likely to be welcomed by parents as a move towards a more progressive workplace.

The Minister has left.

The Minister with responsibility for social protection should be here. It is outrageous.

On a point of order-----

On a point of order, is the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, a Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection? The Minister came in, made a series of allegations about the Bill that are false and then scuttled out. It is outrageous.

The Deputy should resume his seat. He is using up his colleagues' time.

She smeared this side of the House in respect of the Bill and ran out the door.

A Minister has the right to call on a colleague to deputise if he or she has another engagement. That has always been the tradition in the House.

I am also attached to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

He is also Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

That is a new one on me. He kept that quiet.

In any event, the Deputy is eroding his own time. If he wants to go on like that all night, I do not mind; I am easy. I call Deputy Lahart.

It is pretty poor form to walk out and not even listen to the response.

After pillorying this side of the House

I know. The Minister came in and spoke at that juncture.

She spoke for 15 minutes and walked out.

I am sorry. The Deputy knows that the rules of the House apply.

I apologise to the Chair; it was never directed at him. However, a number of questions were posed by the Minister. We would have been happy to respond to them if she had seen fit to stay and listen to those responses.

The Minister of State is well and fully equipped to reply to those issues.

This remains to be seen, but I have confidence in the Minister of State.

The point I was making is that the Library and Research Service seems to contradict what the Minister said. It calls to mind the great quote from the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption" where the governor is asked if he is being deliberately obtuse. I thought the tone of the Minister's contribution was quite aggressive, contrary to the spirit of the Bill proposed by my two colleagues. The opportunity to share maternity leave includes the ability to share the associated State maternity benefit. Where maternity leave is shared, the maternity benefit would be apportioned between the parents of the child in proportion to the period of maternity leave taken by each parent. I do not believe anybody could see a flaw in that. It is referred to as shared-leave benefit in the Bill and is additional to the paternity leave benefit.

The Bill also clarifies that shared maternity leave is supplemental to the paternity leave of two weeks. In her opening contribution, Deputy O'Loughlin also made the point that it would facilitate greater equality in that it would allow both parents to share rearing responsibilities. If enacted, the Bill will be a positive step towards creating a more modern workplace, enabling parents to have greater flexibility in the care of their children. By affording parents the opportunity to share maternity leave, parents would, therefore, be in an optimal position for determining the best arrangements for their children. Other factors come into play, including financial arrangements. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes it may be economically viable for a mother to share part of her maternity leave.

We have highlighted that the Bill would not give rise to any additional costs to the Exchequer given that State maternity benefit is paid directly to mothers.

The UK introduced a similar concept under its shared parental leave scheme in 2015. This enables parents to share the period of parental leave. The parental benefit is also apportioned between the parents in accordance with the length of parental leave taken. The mother and her partner have an entitlement to 39 weeks shared parental pay in the UK. However, as the mother is statutorily required to take two weeks' maternity leave, shared parental leave is available for 37 of the 39 weeks.

The Minister drove a coach and four through my two colleagues' proposal without giving it proper consideration. The thrust and spirit of the Bill are there to be seen. The same happened in the House yesterday when my own Bill was being debated. We introduce Bills and everybody on this side of the House is open to significant amendment being made in the spirit of the Bill to ensure the broad thrust, principle and ambition of the Bill are carried forward. The Minister is now proposing that it be put off until the middle of next year in order that some kind of consultation can take place. I ask the Minister of State to reflect on that and take on board the spirit of what my colleagues are suggesting. A more generous response from Government would be most welcome on this side of the House. I know some of my colleagues will seriously contest some of the arguments the Minister made.

I reiterate my disappointment that the Minister, after smearing the Opposition regarding the Bill, ran out the door. She made a number of statements that do not stand up to scrutiny. I find it difficult to believe her speech was written by civil servants.

The pregnant workers' directive entitles women to 14 weeks' maternity leave and requires them to take two weeks. I would like the Minister at some point to come back to correct that. The Bill is about ensuring that mothers can exercise their rights, but they can decide, if they so choose, to share that particular right. The Minister's exposition of the pregnant workers' directive is utterly wrong and should be corrected on the floor of the Dáil. She should look up the directive to see what it contains. She should also examine what other countries are doing. There has never been a Commission fine; that is complete and utter nonsense. The excuses for opposing Opposition Bills are becoming ever more interesting and complicated. This is a progressive Bill to deal in all likelihood with a small number of families who want and fully choose to avail of its provisions and the rights furnished in it.

The Minister referred to breastfeeding. She is correct to highlight the importance of breastfeeding. Which of the young fathers among us has not helped their partners and wives with expressed breast milk when their wives want to go out, have to deal with other matters or are not in the family home that day? Most fathers I know are expert in assisting their partners and wives with giving expressed breast milk to babies. What the Minister said about breastfeeding is another bogus argument on her part.

The Bill is about mothers and families, and giving the choice to the small number of them who will avail of it. We are talking particularly about families where the mother is the main breadwinner or where mothers are self-employed and do not have the entitlements that many employees have. It is likely that a small number of people will take it up, but it could be life-changing for those who want to do it. No one will force anyone to do it. The Minister's assertion that employers will force people to do it is contrary to the facts.

I have no doubt that the Government has been hobbled by major employers and their representatives regarding this Bill and that is why it is opposing it. The major law firms and recruitment companies have made considerable commentary about the Bill. I compliment my colleagues on succeeding in getting it noticed. However, those companies are talking to their clients who presumably will not want men taking leave unexpectedly in the way that pregnant women and new mothers can - as well as men and other partners. They do not want that to happen. I suspect that is what this right-wing Fine Gael Government has succumbed to - utter hobbling by industry, big business and employers who do not want the additional rights in the Bill given to families.

That is the fundamental problem here. That is the truth of what is happening. It has been dressed up very nicely by the Minister, but it has been dressed up wrongly. This provision exists in other countries and is taken up by a small number of people. No issue relating to European law has ever arisen in those countries. None of the public commentary on the Bill by the major law firms with European law departments has mentioned breaches of the pregnant workers' directive. This is a red herring.

The Bill needs to be supported and passed by the House to give families the option to continue their lives and do what they want to do. The pregnant workers' directive requires women to take two weeks and it is likely that most mothers will want a higher number of the 14 weeks, even those who want to avail of this measure. However, they will have the choice as to whether they want to give some of it to the husband or partner and that will be entirely up to them.

If changes to the Bill are needed, they can be made on Committee Stage. There will be public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. We know it is the right thing to do. We do not need to consult big business to see whether we should put this forward. We do not need to take the warnings of law firms as they warn their employer clients about the Bill. We do not need to go with that. We in this House need to do what is right, and give extra rights and entitlements to families. This has to happen and the Minister of State should reflect carefully because I know he is not someone who listens to what big businesses say.

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State looked at this issue closely. It was new information to me that he was a Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, but I am glad to hear it. He should look at this issue closely to see what the rights and wrongs are and whether the Cabinet made the wrong choice in opposing the Bill this week which is when it presumably was brought before it. It is a progressive measure and fundamentally misleading to the House to describe it as regressive. It is progressive, a word that has been used by many of the law firms that have commented on it. As Deputy Lahart stated, the Oireachtas Library and Research Service has come in against what the Minister stated. As she stated to Deputy Lisa Chambers, Fine Gael is ideologically opposed to the Bill. That is the truth of the matter. We can see the evidence in those who commented on the Bill and warned their clients and members about it during the summer. They had reason to be concerned and warn people about the Bill. We now find that Fine Gael is opposing it for utterly bogus reasons.

I, too, welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill which fundamentally is about choice. There is absolutely nothing in it that is mandatory. There is nothing in it that will force either parent to do anything that they would not choose to do themselves. The arguments I heard the Minister make were disingenuous and she should have had the courtesy to at least wait to listen to the debate, given the fact that the Bill comes within her remit. I acknowledge that the Minister of State has responsibility in the Department too; therefore, he will have an opportunity to bring the concerns raised back to the Department.

The Bill is about allowing the mothers of newborn children to share their maternity benefit entitlements with the child's other parent, if they wish to do so. It is important that we move towards broadening parental choice, promoting gender equality and supporting a healthy work-life balance. The Bill allows parents to share between them the 26-week period of paid maternity leave but subject to the approval of the mother who cannot be discommoded in any way. If she does not wish to make that choice, she does not have to. The Bill is about supporting her right to choose how maternity leave is to be taken. The Minister was wrong. She used phrases such as "preventing the mammy from bonding with the child." She was almost trying to insinuate that we were nearly forcing a mother who wanted to stay at home with her child not to do so. That is factually incorrect. In Ireland mothers have a statutory entitlement to 26 weeks of maternity leave paid for by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Mothers have a statutory entitlement to take a further 16 weeks leave without pay. Fathers are entitled to just two weeks of paid paternity leave and can only take some of the mother's entitlements if she dies. That is not right. The Bill will broaden entitlement and choice. The Minister gave kudos to the Government for its recent announcement in budget 2019 in which it committed to introducing an additional two weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers and fathers on a use it or lose it basis. What she failed to say was that it really should not have been an announcement in budget 2019 but in budget 2020 because it will not take effect until December 2019. We have moved to a new stage in this Administration where the Government is announcing budgetary measures 12 months in advance.

What are the benefits in introducing shared paternity benefit? It gives an opportunity in a situation where perhaps the mother is the main breadwinner, self-employed or a Member of Dáil Éireann, for whom currently there is no maternity benefit available. If a colleague of ours in the House gives birth during the Dáil term, there is nearly pressure on her to return to work within a short timeframe as a result of the fear that she will lose out because she is not operating and fully representing her constituents. Perhaps there are instances in which it would be more beneficial for the father or the second parent to avail of the benefit. It would be the choice of the mother in conjunction with the second parent. It would also offer the father greater involvement in the child's life. A recent study conducted by the Overseas Development Institute found that Ireland was the most unequal of the 32 countries studied by it. Just 7% of men provide childcare, which is lower than the figure in Iraq, which is quite amazing. By allowing parents to share leave facilities, the Bill offers greater gender equality by allowing both parents to play an instrumental role in the early months of a child's life.

In this debate we frequently look to other jurisdictions and ask what is happening there, if it is working well and what is international best practice. During my time as my party's spokesperson on children, the countries always referred to in the provision of childcare and in terms of child welfare and getting it right from early age were the Scandinavian countries. Lo and behold, Sweden was the first country to introduce shared maternity leave in 1974, long before I was born. There is international evidence that demonstrates that this is happening and good. It offers a greater opportunity for both parents to provide caring facilities at an early stage in a child's life. It means that if the mother needs to go back to work for whatever reason, the family will not lose their statutory maternity benefit entitlements. Ultimately, the bottom line is that it is about choice. It would not be mandatory. It is not forcing people to do what they do not want to do. I ask the Minister of State to use his position within the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and at the Cabinet table to try to encourage his line Minister to review the decision not to support the legislation which will not be voted on until next Thursday. It would at least allow it to move to the next Stage and if there are amendments to be made, they could be debated and made. I am sure, like any legislation, it can be improved.

I thank the Deputies for bringing the Bill to the House. It is one Sinn Féin is happy to support. I note the opposition of the Government and the absence of the Minister. I do not mean that in a disrespectful way to the Minister of State, but it is a pity that the Minister saw fit to launch a broadside against the legislation in a negative way. As one Deputy said, there is the opportunity to amend and work together. The premise on which the Bill is being brought forward is a good one. I had a little chuckle when the Minister claimed to be protecting women from unscrupulous employers because that is why we have trade unions.

It is rare to hear a Deputy from that quarter do anything other than defend unscrupulous employers. Women do not need to be protected in that way, however. Families do not scream out for that level of protection and they will not be touched or convinced by the Minister's words.

We believe it is not before time that this is on the agenda. I am happy to debate it today but it is overdue. The introduction of shared leave is a step that many parents will welcome, as will people who live in the real world and defend themselves against unscrupulous employers by joining trade unions to defend their interests. We have moved away from the Ireland of old that was forged by the conservative counter-revolution in the early years of the Free State and which destroyed ideals of equality and equal opportunities. What they gave us was a crushingly theological and conservative State, which told us a woman's place was in the home. We are due a referendum on that archaic clause in the new year and that cannot come quickly enough.

That referendum is one of many signs that our society is moving on. Nevertheless, there are a multitude of issues which linger on in law or which are not provided for. As a result, women must fight to see them rectified. The Bill seeks to address one of these issues, namely, maternity leave. Not only has the construction of families changed in recent times but so too has the nature of raising children. Partners now play a pivotal role in the upbringing of their children and the passing of the Bill would be a reflection of that fact.

My experience of maternity leave happened a long time ago. It was not today or yesterday but I think I was allowed ten weeks. I was a student in college when I availed of the leave and I went back to college when my daughter was three weeks old. It would have been helpful for us as a small family to be able to share the leave because we had to share the parenting. The Minister expressed a grave concern for the breast-feeding mothers of Ireland but that can be managed and there are facilities to ensure this. If I was able to manage it 20-odd years ago when such facilities were not in place, women will be able to manage it now. The concern for breast-feeding mothers was something of a ruse. I do not believe that is why the Government opposes the legislation.

The first year of a child's life is crucial in his or her development and parents should be able to spend as much time as possible with their newborn children, having been given space and time to bond. Figures released by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection show that approximately 51,000 fathers were awarded leave since the scheme began in 2016, with almost 2,000 taking paternity leave every month. I use the word "fathers" rather than "daddies" because we should stick to "mothers and fathers" rather than "mummies and daddies", as I heard being said earlier. The entitlement in both the Six Counties and the Twenty-six Counties is considerably less than what is available to workers elsewhere in Europe. Ireland was identified as an example of worst practice in parental leave rights in the European Union. It lags far behind other member states for maternity leave, paternity leave and parental leave. Sinn Féin strongly supports the introduction of statutory rights for flexible working arrangements, which can play a role in enabling workers to balance work with family and other responsibilities, thereby significantly enhancing a worker's quality of life. Although the situation has improved for prospective parents over the past few years, there is more to do. As was mentioned, this is evidenced by the fact that we all know of young women who go to job interviews and feel obliged to play down the prospects of taking maternity leave. In truth, if it was a man or woman in the position, with equal chances of availing of parental leave, there would be a level playing field and it would ensure the appointment was made on merit. There would be no disadvantage for women, who might be seen as being more likely to take the leave.

The 26 weeks of paid maternity leave to which new mothers in this State are entitled is paid at a low, flat rate. It is one of the lowest levels of payment in the European Union. The sum of €230 per week for mothers to remain at home is simply not enough, although I acknowledge that when I availed of it, it was only IR£77. That was a long time ago, however, and I suppose some progress has been made. We need to consider substantially increasing this payment if we are to be seen as taking the concerns of new parents seriously and supporting them in the formative years of their children's lives.

It would be remiss of me not to use this opportunity to mention a group of people whose access to shared maternity leave could be hampered because of the Government's failure to address their situation. Same-sex couples who have conceived a child through surrogacy or donor assistance are at a distinct disadvantage because only one parent is allowed on the birth certificate, leaving the other without legal protections because Parts 2, 3 and 9 of the Children and Families Relationships Act 2015 have not been implemented. That historic legislation, which complemented the referendum for civil marriage equality, gave rights to same-sex parents for their family formation to be recognised and protected. Three and a half years later, the families have started and the couples have conceived, but the legislation still has not been fully implemented and does not deliver for the couples in that regard.

I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this legislation. We are happy to support it and engage on the process, which is what people wanted to hear from the Minister. Her response of crocodile tears for women treated badly in the workplace and her campaign on behalf of breast-feeding mothers are somewhat misguided. The intention of the legislation is clear and its purpose is not to do what the Minister outlined. Sinn Féin is happy to support the Bill and to work with all parties in the House to ensure the tabling of any necessary amendments, which, as indicated, will be received gratefully. I remind Deputies that we have until next Thursday. This is good legislation and, if it can be approved, we should pass it. The intent is clear and I urge everybody to come on board and support it.

I compliment the two Deputies for introducing the Bill, which the Labour Party supports. There may well be a need to amend it, to which the Deputies said they are open.

I am surprised at the tone of the Minister's speech. I wonder whether she wrote it herself or had input. I have some experience of being handed scripts but one always tries to put one's own stamp on them. It does not sound to me like Deputy Regina Doherty, judging by her personality and so on, but I do not know. What I do not like about its tone is that it is condescending to women. It is as though we need some kind of paternalistic protection against our spouses, partners and employers but that is not the world in which we live any more. We are equal human beings who can stand up for ourselves. While we want rights, we do not want arms put around us to protect us from the big bad men who will try to push us around and tell us what to do. That is not the reality of the world in which we live.

I am too old to benefit one way or another from any of this but I happen to be a grandmother. I know many young couples who very much share in the parenting of their children and who try to figure out ways to organise their lives in order that they can share responsibilities. That is the way that we, as legislators, should guide social policy rather than saying women will be pushed around or that they will not be given space to be with their children in the early years of life. That is not how we should proceed in public policy. Our policy on the early years of childcare is that parents should have the opportunity for the first year of a child's life to be with the child, through maternity leave, paternity leave and parental leave.

I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this legislation. We are happy to support it and engage in the process, which is what people wanted to hear from the Minister. The response from the Minister of crocodile tears for women treated badly in the workplace, and the campaign she is mounting on behalf of breast-feeding mothers, is all somewhat misguided. The intention of the legislation is clear and its purpose is not what the Minister outlined. Sinn Féin is happy to support it and to work with all parties in the House to ensure the tabling of any necessary amendments, which, it was indicated, would be received gratefully. I remind Deputies that we have until next Thursday. This is good legislation. If it can be approved, we should do it. The intent is clear and I urge everybody to come on board and support it

The flexibility around how that is worked should surely be a matter for the couple themselves. That is the principle of this Bill and therefore it should continue to the next Stage.

I note that the Minister spoke of EU law and so on, but I am not sure where that was coming from. If there are specific matters in the Bill that require tidying up, I am sure that Deputies Lisa Chambers and O'Loughlin would be willing to examine those.

There have been positive developments in expanding maternity, paternity and parental leave in recent years. I very much support this and it must continue. There have also been positive developments in childcare in recent years, the cost of which is the big issue for most parents of young children, despite the country's economic difficulties, and that must also continue.

I will not speak for long. I just wanted to express support for the Bill. Something I see from my children and their friends is that people have many different working hours. Some people work shift hours, whether they are in caring professions or the more traditional shift-type jobs, and they juggle their parenting time accordingly, generally in a spirit of co-operation rather than one parent being superior in the workplace and the other superior in the home, which is not and should not be how it is.

I express our support for the intent of the Bill and my disappointment in the Minister's contribution.

I commend Deputies Lisa Chambers and O’Loughlin on bringing forward this Bill and thank them and Deputies O’Reilly, Lahart, Thomas Byrne and Troy for their contributions.

All of us here share the same objective, namely, to provide parents with choice and flexibility and to afford them the opportunity to spend more time with their children. We all recognise the importance of helping parents strike a balance between family and working life, and we must do everything we can to achieve this goal. A lot of work remains to be done by the Government to support families through the introduction of paid parental leave. There are ongoing negotiations at EU level on the work-life balance directive and several Private Members’ Bills have been generated by Members of this House. That is a positive contribution.

I am glad we had an opportunity to discuss these in detail in this debate. Such a discussion helps to provide different insights, to inform us all of the different needs of families and of possible approaches that might be taken, and it all helps to improve the various initiatives in development.

As outlined, the Government is committed to helping families. In 2013, we increased parental leave from 14 to 18 weeks. In 2016, the Government introduced paternity leave legislation to provide for two weeks’ paid paternity leave for fathers on the birth of their babies and, as noted, the Government is delighted to see the positive response and increasing uptake of this leave by fathers.

Around this time last year we provided for the extension of maternity leave and maternity benefit in cases of premature births, which is in addition to the existing entitlement to 26 weeks’ paid maternity leave. Only in the past month, the Government announced the introduction of a new paid parental leave scheme next year to deliver on the commitments in the programme for Government.

These are all positive developments and the Deputies’ Bill seeks to round out the overall picture relating to supporting parents. While the Bill itself does not quite manage this, it has provided the Government with an opportunity to consider the needs of those parents identified and outlined by the Deputies. Of course we, including myself as an Independent, take on board the views expressed and the spirit in which they were made. We are not closing down this debate. I disagree strongly with the remarks that the employers hobbled the Government. I strongly support the emphasis on choice and gender equality, but I am very concerned that we do not reduce mothers’ rights to stay with newborn children.

I agree with the Members on the subject of maternity leave for Members of the Oireachtas. It is something we must work on. I also agree with them on the rights of women, trade unions and statutory rights.

Several colleagues raised the EU directive. According to article 8:

Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that workers within the meaning of Article 2 are entitled to a continuous period of maternity leave of a least 14 weeks allocated before and/or after confinement in accordance with national legislation and/or practice.

The maternity leave stipulated in paragraph 1 must include compulsory maternity leave of at least two weeks allocated before and/or after confinement in accordance with national legislation and/or practice.

I hope the Deputies will accept the reasons put forward in this debate as to why the Government cannot support this Bill. The Bill falls short of the Deputies’ intentions to provide another layer of support for families. I will not labour the point, but I think we are all in agreement, and I would be disappointed and surprised if we were not, that we cannot proceed with legislation that would breach EU law, foster a culture that expects mothers to return to work immediately post birth and would reduce and remove the long-standing, existing protections already afforded to those on maternity leave or who care for newborns.

This Bill, it enacted, would incur expenditure for the Exchequer as the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection would have to develop a system that would allow for the maternity benefit payments to be transferred from a mother to a father. As a result, this Bill will require a money message to proceed.

That is not true. That is factually incorrect.

The Government accepts that the principles of the Bill deserve further consideration. To reiterate the point made earlier, none of us wants to introduce measures that will have a negative impact on families, and the Government believes that the best way to proceed would be to undertake a consultation process following the implementation of our new paid parental leave scheme. This will enable the Government to ascertain precisely what is needed to support women, including those in insurable and self-employment, to reconcile care for their newborn children with the demands of returning to work.

I am very disappointed with the tone of the Government response in rejecting this Bill. For the Minister to deliver such a scathing response to a very well-intentioned Bill, which is supported by Opposition parties in this House, and then walk out of the Chamber without listening to a single response is very insulting to those of us who are passionate about this Bill and the positive implications we believe it will have for women in this country.

I will go through the Minister's response and deal with some of the points she raised. First and foremost, we are not seeking to reduce maternity entitlements. We seek to add flexibility to current entitlements to allow parents to share what is already there. It is already there and there is no cost to the Exchequer. Why not give parents the choice and let them decide what is best for them?

The Minister said she does not want to take away a "mammy's special time with her baby". That language is sensationalist and populist. Nobody is seeking to do that. I do not know if she was referring to mothers, their partners or their employers, because that is certainly not what we are seeking to do. If anyone seeks to force a woman against her will to return to work before she is ready, that should be a criminal offence that should be dealt with properly, but that is not something that anyone on this side of the House is suggesting. Were she here, I would say so to the Minister directly.

The Minister suggested that maternity leave would somehow become a commodity subject to negotiations.

I agree with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan who eloquently made the point regarding the idea that women need to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected from their partners and employers. We are well able to protect ourselves. However, what we want is flexibility and a choice in existing legislation to allow us to direct our own future and family life and to make the decisions that are right for us. Currently, we do not have that choice. If a woman has given birth and is entitled to maternity leave, she either takes the full six months or whatever such leave she does not take is lost to the family. If she chooses to go back to work sooner, she must pay for childcare sooner because the dad or the other partner cannot take that leave.

The Minister did nothing to address the circumstances for a woman who is self-employed, owns her own business or is in political life. What do women in those situations do? Deputy Troy made a good point when he stated that women can often feel under pressure when they seek to advance in their career and want to get to work. That is their choice. They are under extra pressure, however, when they have to think about the fact that they have to pay for childcare because they want to go back to work sooner and they cannot even ask their partner to take the remainder of their maternity leave because that flexibility and choice is not available.

To deal with the EU directive, first and foremost, the requirement is that 14 weeks be made available but only two weeks must be taken. We are open to the tabling of an amendment to give effect to that. Any of the issues around the legislation and its implications for domestic legislation can be dealt with adequately by way of amendments, as is the case for any other Bill that has come through this House.

I thank the Sinn Féin Party and the Labour Party, and Deputies O'Reilly and Jan O'Sullivan, who spoke in favour of this Bill, clearly gave it some thought, recognise its intent and want to see it progressed and brought through the House. Both Deputies expressed dismay at the tone and level of rejection from the Minister before she exited the Chamber, without giving due regard and consideration to what is being proposed.

As for the idea that there has been a lack of consultation, is every Bill that comes before this House subject to a public consultation process? It is not and why should it be? This is the House for consultation. We can discuss this together. The Minister even questioned whether there was a demand for this proposal or whether it was an issue. The fact that the woman either has to take the full leave or does not get it all and that the father or the other partner is entitled to only two weeks clearly shows there is an imbalance, which does not adequately reflect a modern progressive society.

In terms of levelling the playing field, and Deputy O'Reilly made this point also, there is no doubt in my mind that when a woman goes into an interview, she is treated differently from a male attendee at that interview if it is perceived that she is more likely to take maternity leave than her male colleague. That is the reality and a fact of life. We have legislation to protect against that, but we cannot prove that happens, even though we know it does. Any woman of childbearing age going for an interview will tell us that she is mindful and concerned about this. Women take off their engagement rings before going for interviews. They are afraid they will be treated differently and discriminated against because they might take the time off. This is the white elephant in the room.

The Minister spoke about the issues involved for employers and that it might be more difficult for them to get three months’ cover as opposed to six months’ cover. What utter nonsense. Is the difficulty not the fact that if a company has a policy of topping up maternity leave, it is far more expensive to top up a salary that is higher? We know about the gender pay gap. It will cost businesses a little bit more to top up the salaries of men who might take time out, and it may make it a little more uncomfortable for them to facilitate their male employees taking time out, but so be it. That is not the concern in this House, rather it is that we should be moving towards an equal situation where women have the choice to direct their futures and do not need to wrapped in cotton wool.

I sincerely hope that the Minister of State will bring back the comments from this House to the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, because until the vote on this measure next Thursday, there is time to facilitate this Bill moving forward and allowing for consultation with other Deputies and parties in this House. We are open to the bringing forward of amendments to make this Bill work.

I found the comments of the Minister not only aggressive, as was mentioned, but quite patronising and condescending not only towards the Members who introduced this Bill but to the women of this country. Basically, she was telling the women of this country that their place is in the home if they have a child. Many women make the choice to stay at home and that is fantastic for them, but there are many others who choose not to work in the home either because of economic necessity or because of a social desire. It is important that we give women the opportunity to work outside the home or be at home with their children, but the essential point is that choice.

I believe the Minister was misinformed. She spoke about us breaching EU legislation with respect to what we said. The EU requires a minimum of 14 weeks’ maternity benefit to be available, only two of which must be taken by the mother. It is understandable a mother would take at least two weeks because obviously there is a recovery period after pregnancy and childbirth. Other European countries have brought in legislation to allow parents to share the maternity benefit period. For example, the UK allows parents to share all weeks except two weeks immediately before or after the birth. In Portugal, parents are able to take 120 or 150 days, with 42 days reserved for the mother and the remaining leave can be shared. We have made it very clear at all points that we can amend the Bill to include a period of compulsory leave. This is completely separate from the EU work-life balance directive, which states that there must be a minimum four-month parental leave period to be taken before a child turns 12 years of age.

Since I sought to introduce this Bill, a number of individuals contacted Deputy Lisa Chambers and myself to give their support to it and suggested that following the 26 week period, the other 14 weeks, which are unpaid, could be used also. They thought that was a very good idea.

If we seriously want to reduce the 14% gender pay gap between men and women, boosting paternity leave entitlements and uptake is a vital step. More fathers taking longer periods of leave in place of mothers will improve the drop in women's salaries and career prospects following childbirth. That is important. Following on from that, employers would be less likely to discriminate against women when hiring and promoting employees. This Bill certainly provides the opportunity to create real social change both in the home and in the workplace. We need to avoid self-censorship by men who feel that if they take the leave, they would be sending out a signal that their work is not important to them.

A sea change in terms of attitudes and workplace culture is necessary. Despite what the Minister said, parents are the best judges of what works best for themselves and their babies. The intent of this Bill is to grant those parents the flexibility to make decisions regarding what works for them as a family. It allows for greater involvement by both parents in their children's lives and facilitates greater gender equality. We are aware that these provisions exist in Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, the UK and Germany. Sweden was the first country to introduce these benefits in 1974. Each parent there is entitled to up to three months.

There are many benefits to a father playing a more active role in his child's life and many of them are prevented from doing this by financial and cultural barriers. However, the high-profile Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook publicly took two months’ leave when his daughter was born in 2015, and he could afford to do so, but this sent a very clear message to the tech world and that has filtered through the organisation. In the Dublin office, full-time employees who become parents but are not entitled to maternity leave are offered four months of paid baby leave. A Fianna Fáil councillor in Kildare has had the opportunity to do that and they said it was fantastic.

The OECD research shows that fathers’ use of parental leave is highest when leave is not just paid but well paid, or half of normal earnings, so the level of payment is very important. Fair play to companies such as Facebook, Twitter and KPMG because they top up the employee's paternity benefit in such a way as they top up maternity benefit.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 22 November 2018.

The Dáil adjourned at 7 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 November 2018.