Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016: Second Stage

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

I am delighted to be here to take Second Stage of the Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016. I know that I can expect valuable and incisive contributions from Senators to the debate and I am looking forward to their support during our discussions on what we are trying to achieve with the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the decision in budget 2016 to provide for two weeks' paternity leave and an associated social welfare benefit, known as paternity benefit. While the idea behind the introduction of two weeks paternity leave is simple, the legislation required to execute the proposal has been complex and intricate. For instance, there were complicated issues regarding the interplay with maternity and adoptive leave that had to be resolved. In addition, other legislation had to be updated through this Bill, including the Workplace Relations Act 2015 and the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

We made a large number of amendments in the Lower House. The high number of amendments on Committee and Report Stages reflects the complexity of the Bill and its interaction with the other legislation I mentioned. On Committee Stage, there were 22 individual amendments, mainly technical. The most significant group of amendments made related to the broadening of the definition of sole male adopter to ensure that self-employed fathers are covered in the Bill. This was the intention from the outset, but we needed to make adjustments to the Bill as published to make sure we achieved this objective.

On Report Stage, there were 28 individual amendments. Here we made three key changes. First, we carved out a right to paternity leave for male same-sex couples who adopt. The intention was always to provide for such couples on the same basis as other couples, but the execution of that idea required quite a few amendments to resolve consequential and cross-referencing issues that the core amendments give rise to in the Bill. It also threw up a more substantive anomaly in that adoptive leave is not yet available to same-sex male couples who will adopt in the future. This is because leave is available to "an adopting mother" only under the Adoptive Leave Act 1995. Unfortunately, it is not possible to resolve the larger anomaly in the time available to us for this Bill.

My Department has consulted the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Adoption Authority of Ireland which have informed us that there have been no sole male domestic adopters in the past three years and that there are currently no domestic adoptions by a same-sex male couple in the assessment process and that it is unlikely, therefore, that there will be any in the next 12 to 18 months.

There is a possibility of same-sex couples registering a foreign adoption here and subsequently moving to Ireland, but it seems clear the number of male same-sex couples who will adopt in the coming years is, at most, very small. Nevertheless, the anomaly needs to be fixed. In the circumstances and as it is essential to have the Bill enacted very soon to allow paternity leave and benefit to come into being in September, we will bring forward amendments to the Adoptive Leave Acts when we have finished the examination of the adoptive leave and social welfare legislation provisions that will need to be amended. We will do so in other legislation as soon as possible and not later than the end of the year, possibly in the Bill that will be published in the next session to allow ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We brought forward the commencement date from 30 September to 1 September. The reason we could not commit to a start date of 1 September before publication of the Bill was that there had been a significant question mark over whether the complex operational arrangements required in the Department of Social Protection could be completed in time for the earlier September go live date. Following a review, we decided that the earlier date would be achievable. This change will enable approximately 6,000 more fathers to be able to access paternity benefit and the cost is already covered in the Department of Social Protection Vote.

We strengthened the provisions that protect employees from penalisation and-or dismissal as a consequence of exercising their right to paternity leave. These amendments brought the Bill into line with other employment protection legislation enacted recently.

There were also a number of technical amendments that dealt with stylistic and linguistic issues, or ensured consistency in the language used in the Bill. These amendments were introduced on the advice of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. Also, many of the technical amendments were consequential on the substantive amendments. This explains why we made a total of 50 amendments to achieve, as I set out, four main changes.

Instinctively, I have long been an advocate of a fairer sharing of family responsibilities, but even viewed purely objectively, the increased participation of men in child-rearing responsibilities is unequivocally positive. Evidence from countries such as Norway shows that when fathers take a more significant and meaningful share in the parenting of their children, the individual family benefits, as does wider society. It is in a child’s best interests to benefit from the care and attention of both parents in his or her early years. As we all know, investing in a child’s early years leads to better outcomes for both the child and wider society. Furthermore, evidence shows that fathers want to spend time caring for and bonding with their children. Research confirms that children benefit most from parental care in the first year, but, as things stand, in order to take time off around the birth of their child, or later on in the first year, fathers have to use other existing leave arrangements.

Parents want choice and flexibility. The Bill gives parents the flexibility to choose when they take the time off to care for their young child. When enacted, the legislation will allow new fathers, including fathers of adopted children, to start the combined package of paternity leave and paternity benefit at any time within the first six months following birth. In the case of adoption, the father can take leave within 26 weeks of the day of placement. The State can and should support families as they deal with all the different pressures they face. For this scheme, the Department of Social Protection will provide a minimum of paid paternity benefit of €230 per week for the two weeks' paternity leave. This means the State now offers a total of 28 weeks of paid support to parents upon the birth of their child.

The provision of family-related leave is one of the important areas to create a balance between family and working life. I am pleased this legislation is another important step in supporting families in the workplace. Research indicates that mothers who are supported at home in the weeks following their child's birth tend to be healthier and to have lower incidences of post-natal depression. Co-parenting habits that are established in the first few months of a child's life continue to benefit the home for years to come. Simply put, the more time that fathers can spend with their babies, the better. It is good for fathers, families and society.

I am also very happy that the 256,000 self-employed men in Ireland will be able to avail of paternity benefit. Given that they are self-employed, they can already take leave, but most do not do so owing to loss of income or business. Becoming a new parent is a huge undertaking and for parents who are forced to take unpaid family leave, the situation becomes infinitely more challenging. This measure of two weeks' paid paternity leave will give them a guaranteed income, which will make it a little easier for them to combine parenting with the responsibility of running a business.

The legislation we are asking the Seanad to approve is worthwhile, progressive and, in the Irish context, groundbreaking. Unlike many EU member states, we have no provision for paternity leave, a situation that sets us out of step with the changed and more active role that fathers play in raising their children in most comparable societies. This combined package of paternity leave and paternity benefit will help to ensure fathers in Ireland have entitlements that are similar to those of fathers in other EU countries.

It is very difficult to estimate accurately what the actual take up will be. The Department of Social Protection estimates that 30,000 to 40,000 fathers might choose to apply for paternity benefit in a full year, at a cost of €20 million. This year, 2016, the payment is expected to cost the Exchequer €5 million. Fathers will normally have to give four weeks' notice before taking the leave, but there is provision in the Bill for the paid paternity leave to be taken at short notice, should a baby be born early.

We all know that a child’s early years are crucial. So often they define the child’s prospects as an adult. We owe it to our children to give them the best start in life. Enabling them to be cherished and nurtured by both parents in their first months will provide a vital foundation for their future lives. It will support the child. It will support fathers by giving them the chance to bond with their children at a key stage of development. It will support mothers and promote gender equality by enabling that essential caring role to be shared. It will support families at a time when the pressures of nurturing a new life can be daunting and stressful. This legislation is good news for parents and children and I hope the Bill will be enacted with the support of the House as quickly as possible.

I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for outlining------

The Senator has eight minutes, but he may not need all of them.

No, I will not.

I tried to let him down gently.

The Minister of State has outlined the Bill, its benefits, the fact we are behind our European colleagues when it comes to parental leave and the importance and benefits of parental leave for wider society. Traditionally, the role was that the woman would look after the child and the father's responsibilities were fairly limited. This is a great opportunity to allow for this to expand and, in general, have a more positive effect on wider society.

The Minister of State also outlined the amendments which were made in the Dáil. He explained many of them were technical but some very substantive amendments were made. I note the amendment on the more complex issue of same-sex couples and adoption. I know that the timeline is important, but I take into account it is not possible to cover all of the bases on this occasion. Considering where we are starting from and what we are trying to achieve by September, it is important that we make a big leap forward at this stage and try to cover any anomalies subsequently. I know that best practice is behind the Bill, with regard to the study and the Norwegian model on which it is based, from which we can learn much including the benefits to society of the participation of the father in child-rearing at a very early stage. This is important to take note of and, learning from it, bring the Bill forward and try to get it passed through the House.

Flexibility is important and I note this is provided for with regard to a child coming early. It will cost €20 million, which is no small amount of money in the grand scheme of things. We will look at it in terms of amendments and issues that could strengthen the Bill. It is all about making it work for everybody and as such we do not have any issues. I welcome the concept and the implementation of the legislation.

I welcome the Minister of State. He is becoming a regular visitor and his contributions are always very welcome, including his words on this very important Bill. I see the legislation as Ireland maturing as a society in embracing an equal role for mothers and fathers in rearing children. For many years, it was usually the primary responsibility of the mother while the father got off very easily. This is changing. In modern Ireland parenting is very much a partnership and both partners, whether same-sex or heterosexual, play an equal role in rearing small children and bringing them up through their formative years.

The Bill is a recognition by the State of the important role that fathers play. Two weeks' paid paternity leave is an important incremental step in the right direction. I would like to see it extended if we were in a financial position to do so and I would certainly like to see it extended in future legislation.

If a family decided it wanted to split in half the six months' maternity leave women get when they have children and if Mam and Dad wanted to take three months each, we should facilitate that. I was struck by the Minister of State's comments about the position in Norway because one of my neighbours is from there. People in Norway has the right attitude to the rearing of children. As the Minister of State rightly pointed out, society benefits when fathers have an increased role. It is all very positive. It is groundbreaking legislation and I am delighted it is coming through the House and that there is no opposition because it is absolutely appropriate. I again thank the Minister of State and look forward to listening to other contributions. Let us hope we can get this over the line.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. Tá an ceart ag an gcainteoir deireanach go mbíonn an tAire Stáit istigh anseo linn go minic. The Minister of State is very dedicated in that he has come in to see us at this time on a Friday, for which I will give him due credit and regard. His contribution is positive and welcoming in terms of some of the anomalies he addressed. There is a willingness and commitment from the Minister of State to address some of the anomalies for same-sex couples. While there may not be a huge body presenting itself, I am sure that as Ireland matures and progresses, this will be something with which we will be faced. It is right and proper that we reflect that legislatively and it is encouraging to hear the Minister of State's commitment to doing this. He will be glad to hear that my contribution will be brief but it will probably share many of the sentiments expressed by him.

There is a compelling body of evidence which demonstrates that children do better if they spend their first year with a parent. We also know that the early years of children’s lives are crucial in their growth to being teenagers and civic-minded adults; therefore, the context in which we are debating the Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill has to be governed by what is best for the child or children in respect of time spent with the parent.

The Bill is essentially about future generations and their welfare and well-being, as well as workers' rights in the here and now. Caring leave entitlements and child care policies must be set in terms of what kind of society we want to create. Statutory rights to flexible work arrangements can play a key role in enabling workers to balance work with family and family related responsibilities. In this country, North and South, more needs to be done to bring parental leave and other workers' rights into line with those in the rest of Europe. Under the current law in the State, if a man wants to take time off following the birth of his child, he must do so out of current annual leave entitlements or leave without pay. This is unfair because it favours high-income workers. It is of no value to low-income families for whom it would be punitive to forgo income for the duration of the leave.

In Norway new fathers are entitled to up to ten weeks' leave. Many other jurisdictions having generous leave entitlements for fathers to ensure it is not just women who are solely responsible for child care. Further to this, the Government should work to extend maternity benefit by six weeks and allow that portion to be taken by either parent at the end of the current 28 weeks' maternity leave, as well as introducing 52 weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave. Sinn Féin has long campaigned for at least two weeks' paid paternity leave for fathers when their child is born. It is our clear view that this should eventually be increased to four weeks of paid paternity leave.

The absence of paid paternity leave to date has been a stain on the record of successive Governments' parental policy. I also ask the Minister of State to look at the so-called right to request policy which many European countries provide for workers where parents with young children have an actual entitlement to reduced working hours. The Bill and the introduction of two weeks' paid paternity leave are crucial in developing parental leave practices. The National Women's Council of Ireland, Start Strong, and ICTU have called for this for years. It is our view that the Bill should be welcomed and viewed as a starting point for the development of a better child care and parental leave system, including flexible work arrangements for parents. I am heartened, encouraged and hopeful this is what the Bill will achieve, given the Minister of State's remarks and his sincere commitment.

I welcome the Minister of State who will have to get used to spending time here as this is what happens on a Friday when one has this level of responsibility. It is great that legislation such as this has come before this House with support from right across the House and that it will be enacted in time to be ready by early September, which is a great achievement by the Minister of State. Given the delay in the formation of the Government, there was a suggestion or fear that it might not be ready in time, but the Minister of State has prioritised it and made it happen, on which he should be congratulated.

In respect of public policy, we often talk a lot about children but previous Governments have not necessarily invested and drilled down into what can make family life easier in providing real supports to make parenting better, as said by a previous speaker. If one looks at the European mainstream, certainly the Scandinavian mainstream, one would see that we would certainly be a long way behind it, but that does not mean that we should not start somewhere. This is a positive start. As has been mentioned, it was campaigning groups like Start Strong, ICTU and the National Women's Council that first proposed that two weeks' paid paternity leave would be a good start. The Minister of State and I attended a conference 18 months ago where this case was made quite strongly. I congratulate the Minister of State on the work he has done and offer the full support of my Labour Party colleagues.

We should not take this in isolation from other issues in the child care area that need to be addressed. I am sure these issues are outside the Minister of State's remit, but I know that he will be having conversations because this comes as a gender equality measure. Deputy David Stanton is the Minister of State with responsibility for equality, which includes gender equality, and this measure is trying to promote equality in parenting. As we look at those crucial early years, it is remarkable how one can see the power parenting can have. I had a conversation this morning with Preparing for Life in Darndale. It has statistics regarding what intervention can do. The empowerment of parents is key to driving change. I often quote the 1995 report from Betty Hart and Todd Risley. As it is a US report, some of the language is a bit Americanised but the authors say that the average three year old from a welfare dependent family has one third the oral language capacity of a three year old from a professional family. A three year old from a poor family has about 400 words, while a three year old from a rich family has about 1,200. This is before they come anywhere near school. When we talk about early intervention, we often think that this is where school comes in, but the key intervention is family-based - the empowerment of the family and parents to have the skills to employ them in the family setting to ensure dietary, oral language and literacy skills are there from day one. This type of measure gives space and time for the family to concentrate on family matters. Employment matters and bill pressures can be so crushing that having the capacity to spend time with one's family in those early years is key.

I know that the Government is pursuing two years' free child care provision, which is a great initiative. In respect of child care, much of the conversation from different parties and interest groups has been about the idea of a tax credit. I would warn against this. I do not believe the tax credit is a solution to the child care issue in Ireland. The international experience shows that tax credits do not do anything for standards and prices. When intervening in the child care area to make it more affordable for families, we should consider other options as laid out by the National Women's Council and Start Strong, which I understand is winding up or has been wound up. I pay tribute to those involved in that organisation, which was very much an evidence-based organisation that tried to provide evidence-based material for policy-makers to consider when driving forward interventions in the early years sphere. Start Strong has come to the end of its existence, which is a shame, but its input can be seen all over this legislation.

In congratulating the Minister of State and what he has achieved, I suggest we could have further conversations about the nature of employment as an equality tool. Many of the groups with which the Minister of State is dealing say employment is a key indicator of equality. In fact, discrimination happens most readily in the workplace.

Among the groups which the Minister of State will be dealing with are the Traveller organisations which often state the only place a Traveller can get a job is in the Traveller lobby group. He will also be dealing with the disabilities organisations which are determined to ensure the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities is followed through and the LGBT people who want to work in LGBT-friendly environments. There should be no barrier in the workplace to women or mothers playing their full role. We must always be minded of the power of employment as an equality measure. It gives a great sense of self and identity. One of the first questions we ask people when we first meet them is, "Where are you from and what do you do?" If within the identity we have as workers we have legislation that can defend our rights as family people, surely then the productivity of the workers and the workplace will improve. Multinational corporations are often criticised but when one drills down into how they organise their workforce, many of these measures are very generous and not because the multinationals want to be generous but because they have realised that their workers will be more productive if they are adequately catered for in terms of leave and workplace rights. This Bill is a small step in that direction.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for bringing this legislation to this point and assure him he will have the support of the Labour Party in his endeavours. As I said, this legislation will work best in conjunction with the suite of other measures that I know that the Department will be working on, including in the area of child care. We need to understand employment as an equality measure and to be minded that the power of parenting and the ability to enjoy the period of parenting is crucial. The Government's recognition of that through this Bill is welcome.

I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. I also welcome the positive move to have this legislation in place by 1 September.

The Bill sends a positive message in terms of gender equality. I agree with most of what has been said already but I would like to make a few additional points. The Bill provides a number of guidelines for dealing with the abuse of the paternity Bill, which is welcome given past experience in terms of abuse of payments and so on. I welcome that this legislation is also applicable to self-employed persons. We all know farmers, electricians and sole traders who up to now, if out of work, would not have had payments. It is positive that for the first time the self-employed are being thought about.

Section 38 provides that an employee has the right to return to the job he or she held immediately prior to the period of paternity leave and that such a person should not be disqualified from applying for promotional opportunities which arose during the period he or she was on paternity leave. In Britain a father is entitled to take time off to accompany the partner or surrogate mother to two antenatal appointments. Is it proposed to include such a provision in this Bill? If not, is it something that could be considered? The lead-up to the arrival of the child can be a stressful time. I support the inclusion of any measure that would ensure support for the expectant mother.

I would like clarification from the Minister of State on whether the individual taking paternity leave could be someone other than the biological father. For example, in Britain the husband of an expectant mother is also entitled to take the leave. The definition of "relevant parent" in section 2 of the Bill may well provide for this situation. Perhaps, the Minister of State might clarify if that is the case.

I welcome this important Bill. It is hoped the legislation will be enacted by September. In that regard, I acknowledge the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, and his officials on the timely presentation of the Bill before the House. This is groundbreaking legislation that provides for parental leave for fathers, which is important when one takes into consideration what has happened in the European model. While we are slightly behind the European model, this legislation will move us into that European space, which is important.

The big issue will be uptake. In that regard, a review of the legislation in the context of whether fathers are taking up the initiative will be necessary. We know from what happened in the United Kingdom and other places that it takes time for buy-in to happen. I am an expectant father of twins due to be born in a few weeks time. Issues such as whether it would be best to stay in the house or to get out of it will determine the level of buy-in from the male population.

As I said, this is groundbreaking legislation. I thank the Minister of State for its timely delivery. It is legislation of this type that will make our communities and society stronger. This is important legislation.

I thank Senators from all sides of the House for their valuable contributions to this Second Stage debate and for their broad support for the Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016.

We all want what is best for children. All the evidence shows that in parenting what is best for children is the involvement of their fathers in their practical care and day-to-day lives. Even a short amount of paternity leave can equip new fathers with the skills and confidence that are instrumental in providing that care. Fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to take an active role in child care tasks as the child grows. Evidence also shows that paternity leave has longer-term benefits for a child’s development and learning abilities. The benefits that paternity leave delivers to the whole family extend well beyond the few weeks the father spends with his new baby.

Paternity leave promotes equality for women. While it is ostensibly a measure that supports working fathers, it also promotes and supports higher levels of female participation in the labour force. When child care responsibilities fall mainly on mothers, the effect is to reduce women’s salaries. Time away from work can deprive women of experience and promotions. When men share more of the child care, the effect is lessened.

The Bill, through its introduction of a combined package of leave and paternity benefit, promotes increased involvement of fathers in a thoroughly practical way. The Department of Social Protection will provide a minimum of paid paternity benefit of €230 per week for the two weeks of paternity leave. A father can commence paternity leave up to the end of the 26th week after the child’s birth, which allows a significant amount of flexibility and recognises that families might have different child care needs.

The Government is acutely aware of the pressures on young families and wants to implement measures to support them. As the Tánaiste said, this legislation will bring the number of weeks of paid support to parents upon the birth of their child to 28. We hope we will be in a position to extend this provision further in the years ahead. A Programme for a Partnership Government also contains a commitment to increase parental leave significantly over the next five years, with an initial focus on increasing paid parental leave in the first year of birth.

I would like at this point to address some of the points made. Farmers are covered by this legislation. In regard to the question on antenatal care for fathers, we will look at that issue in the context of the family leave Bill. I thank the Senator for that very good suggestion. I agree with Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin that employment should be seen as an equality tool. I will be promoting that view at my meeting with the business community. The Senator also spoke about the need to open up employment opportunities for Travellers, which issue will be prioritised in the context of the strategy that will be developed later in the year.

The definition of relevant parent covers the family in all forms and will cover all spouses with the exception of the adoptive leave issue which I mentioned. This means that paternity leave is available to males in same-sex couples but not yet for adoptive leave.

The Government is also cognisant of limiting potential costs of family leave to businesses. In this regard, the Bill ensures there will be no statutory obligation on an employer to continue to pay the normal salary during paternity leave. There will also be no change to employers’ PRSI to fund this proposal.

I thank the House for its support and positive suggestions. I look forward to further engagement on the next Stages of the Bill, as well as on other progressive legislation we will be introducing in the time ahead.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 19 July 2016.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. next Tuesday.

The Seanad adjourned at 4.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 19 July 2016.