Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages [Private Members]
I have listened carefully to what colleagues have said and, as I said at the very start of Second Stage, Government is in favour of extending this unpaid leave. It took a while to get advice and views because this moved so quickly. It was not until now that we got the view of the Attorney General and we have genuinely been told that there is a risk.
I have listened to what colleagues have had to say. We will definitely not be pressing the amendment based on what they said. It is a modest proposal in its own right. I have reservations and may come back to the Seanad with further information when we have a bit more time to consider this. I do not want this to fall on a constitutional matter. We have to bear in mind that already we have 26 weeks' paid maternity leave, a possibility of 16 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, 18 weeks of paternity leave, and two weeks of paid paternity leave. This amounts to 62 weeks already. This provision adds another eight weeks, or two months, of unpaid leave.
The Government was bringing forward its own proposals for paid leave on an incremental basis. Obviously, we have to be cognisant of the cost of this over time and of the EU directive. I have listened to what colleagues have said here tonight and on Committee Stage. My view is that the majority of colleagues want this to go ahead as proposed. I will not be standing in its way at this stage. We will have to re-examine this matter, perhaps when we get to the Seanad, and discuss it further. Reducing the period from four years to two might be a way out.
On the issue of the previous increase in 2013, from 14 to 18 weeks, that was a requirement of the EU parental leave directive of 2010. There was a presumption of constitutionality in that regard at the time.
I will not be pressing this amendment at this time. I have listened to what colleagues have said. We all want to support families and parents. I am still a parent but having been a parent of small children quite a while ago, I understand the pressures, strains, tensions and costs associated with parenting and how they have increased over the years. The first year a child's life is so important. It is important that the child be with his or her parents.
Deputy Shortall or Deputy Catherine Murphy said earlier that we must examine issues such as breast-feeding in the workplace and so forth. These are all important issues that we have to discuss if we are to achieve equality, including gender equality. That is my position. I listen quite a lot to colleagues both in the Seanad and here and I believe we have to have a debate on these issues. It is important to debate this issue.