Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages [Private Members]
I was very interested to listen to the Minister of State's comment that his preference is for - if I am quoting him right - one parent or both to be at home with all babies in the first year. I personally can see the attractiveness of that because I believe that children benefit tremendously from parents being at home. However, I have to be honest and say that we need to leave real choice. Every family is different and in some instances it may actually be better, because of a whole range of circumstances, for both parents to be working, even within the first year.
I was surprised at the Minister of State's comment in a sense because, from my perspective, the Government is all about labour activation. It is all about getting everyone to work. The Government is backed up in that by the European Union, the OECD, IBEC and ICTU. We saw the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, last week suggest that child benefit be taken off some groups of parents and the money put into childcare. I thought that would just accentuate the ongoing discrimination against parents in the home that I see in the system. It caught me in a sense when I heard that. We should not have any discrimination. We should leave as free a choice as possible to parents.
The attractiveness of this provision to extend parental leave is that it is not mandatory. Not everyone will take it. There may be people who choose not to take it for work reasons. Employees will have to decide and they may decide, for a whole variety of different reasons, that it is better for them to go back to work or that it is better for them not to. We need to give freedom of choice to parents. We should do that straight away. I do not think it will cripple the Irish economy. If anything it might help it in the long run. Giving choice and the freedom of choice is important. In respect of those who want to avail of the additional parental leave, I do not see why we should give some people the choice in four years' time but not next year. We should do it straight away. It is about flexibility and providing parents with the ability to choose what is best for them, and they invariably know what that is. In some instances that will be going back to work and in other instances it will be availing of this leave. The provision does not provide any particular financial benefits. We should give them that choice. I do not agree with any delay.