Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages

 

SECTION 1

3:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

Question proposed: "That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I know that my amendment on carers has been ruled out of order but I want to flag this issue. While there is rightly an acknowledgement of women who could not avail of their full maternity leave being facilitated through the extension of parental leave, the small number of carers in receipt of carer's benefit who cannot go back to work because they are providing full-time care for someone who may still be waiting for a vaccination and worried about catching Covid-19 are not in a position to return to work. Flexibility in this area would facilitate a handful of people throughout the country who are availing of carer's benefit.

The bizarre situation is that they will now be forced to go back to work, which puts the disabled person or the older person at an enhanced risk of catching Covid-19 because there are more people coming into their household. It increases the risk of someone being admitted to hospital or to ICU, putting further pressure on our health service. The person who is already in employment, filling that position for the person who is on carer's leave, will not be able to get employment now because of the Covid restrictions and the impact of the pandemic on our economy, and will draw social welfare payments of a minimum of €203 a week. There is a net financial loss to the State of a minimum of €203 a week, an increased risk to an older person or disabled person of contracting Covid-19, putting additional pressure on our overstretched health service, and all for no cost saved. With carer's leave, there is no additional guarantee of a financial payment.

It seems illogical that we are not providing flexibility to this small cohort of people. I have taken this up directly with the Minister on behalf of Family Carers Ireland. He has come back about the broader issue regarding flexibility for carer's leave. I would be grateful if he could put his intentions in that regard on the record. I urge him to speak with his colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, to see if some flexibility could be introduced in light of the additional risk of exposure to Covid-19, the impact on our health service, and it costing the Department of Social Protection at least €203 week for a small handful of people in this country.

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this point. He has engaged with me directly about this and I have issued a response. It is an important point. As we work towards the full transposition of the work-life balance directive, we will have to continue to look at the position regarding carer's leave. It is covered under Article 6 of the directive, which provides for five days of annual carer's leave for workers providing personal care or support to a relative or person living in the same household. As the Deputy said, it is designed around trying to assist in balancing those caring responsibilities with work and potential reintegration in the workforce, or allow some compromises between the two. We have quite a different system of carer's leave. We currently provide for a minimum of 13 weeks and up to a maximum of 104 weeks of carer's leave for employees and an application of carer's leave for less than 13 weeks may be refused by an employer. To avail of carer's leave currently, an employee must have worked for his or her employer for 12 months without a break in the employment.

When one reads what is currently provided for under domestic legislation and what is provided for in the directive, they do not match up, so we will have to do further work on that. The transposition of this directive has to be completed by August 2022, barring one section, we have to come back to it to fulfil our obligations under EU law, so I will continue to engage with the Deputy on this point.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I ask the Minister to engage with the Minister for Social Protection regarding the small number of people who are due to go back to work now and the current two years of carer's leave.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I think the Minister will engage.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.

NEW SECTION

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No. 2:

2.In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“Reporting

4.(1) The Minister shall, not later than six months after the passing of this Act, carry out a review of the operation of this Act.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the Minister, as part of the review, shall— (a) conduct policy and budgetary analysis on a potential further extension of leave under this Act, from five weeks to nine weeks and establish a timeline for this provision,

(b) consider the degree to which EU Directive 2019/1158 requires further transposition into Irish law and present a timeline for its full implementation,

(c) assess the possibility of streamlining all parental leave legislation including Maternity/Paternity/Parental Leave and Benefit to simplify parental leave provision,

(d) examine ways to close the substantial gap between the end of parental leave (including paid and unpaid leave entitlements) and the start of Early Childhood Education and Care entitlement,

(e) examine ways in which paid parental leave can be extended to lone parents in order to provide equality between one-parent families and two-parent families, and

(f) consider the need to increase the rate of payment for leave under this Act to encourage increased take up of the scheme.

I previously tabled an amendment that was ruled out of order, which sought to provide parity in this legislation and would mean that children of one-parent families would have the same entitlement as those in two-parent families. As this Bill progresses, I am conscious that there is a lot of merit in it, but one shadow that will hang over it is that it will enshrine inequality into the law as it passes. I fundamentally believe, and think that anyone would, that children of one-parent families should have the same entitlement to time at home with a parent, which is the most important aspect of this Bill, as any other child in the State. Is it the Minister's belief that inequality is enshrined in this Bill and that children of one-parent families will have unfair outcomes? What remedy does he and his Department suggest so that we can support this in its current form? This amendment, which I will push as much as I can, is about examining ways in which paid parental leave can be extended to lone parents to provide equality between one-parent and two-parent families. That is important but beyond that, I am interested in the Minister's comments about why that has not been factored into the Bill until this point and how it will be remedied.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I will speak to amendment No. 3, in which we outline a number of areas we think the Minister should report to the Dáil on in a number of months. It is good policy to have a review of this legislation because we need to understand how it impacts people and how it can be improved, so it is important that there is a continual review of the legislation that passes. This amendment contains a number of areas that we would appreciate the Minister considering as part of that review.

The first is about policy and budgetary analysis of potential further extension of leave under the accurate and how the EU directive relating to work-life balance is transposed, and requires a timeline for that. We will all agree that Ireland falls well behind our European neighbours when it comes to parental leave. It is important that we invest and are ambitious in ensuring that our parents and families have the State supports they need, especially in those early years of a child's life. When things are tough, it is hard for parents to balance work, their family life and looking after their children. It is important that we focus and invest strongly in those years for parents.

There is a question about whether primary legislation was required to extend parental leave to nine weeks and whether the 2019 Act empowers the Minister to do that. Will he say why we had to go through this process? Over the past year, when parents were under significant pressure because of Covid and people were losing work, with uncertainty about how they would be able to manage to financially support their families, there were calls for months for us to bring this in. Did we need to wait for this legislation to happen? Could we not have done this and given that clarity and certainty to the parents who were calling for it? There is an issue with us doing this piecemeal and I know that there are requirements under EU legislation. Parents would benefit from a clear timeline for that will be rolled out. Waiting for a week here or a week there for that to be announced is no way for parents to plan their families, finances and the support that will be available. We know what we are required to do under EU legislation.

I ask that the Minister clearly sets out how the Government is going to meet that requirement so that families have clarity and certainty on those supports.

Section 4(2)(c) of the amendment mentions the streamlining of parental leave legislation. At the moment there is maternity, paternity and parental leave benefit, and paid and unpaid leave. It is an incredibly confusing system. I imagine any new family starting to look into it would find it very difficult to navigate. It also makes it very difficult for us as a State to measure how we are doing against other countries, because the terminologies and conditions differ, for example, in respect of whether leave is voluntary, unpaid or not. We must streamline it. It comes down to parental certainty and enabling parents to know what leave is available to them. While starting a family is a fantastically exciting time, parents are exhausted and do not want to have to navigate this very bureaucratic system to find out what supports are available. I ask the Minister to streamline the supports and the nomenclature used relating to them.

I ask the Minister to examine ways to close the substantial gap between the end of parental leave, including paid and unpaid entitlements, and the start of early childhood education. For any family who have a child and have benefited from accessing maternity or parental leave, there is a huge gap between that finishing and when the child is eligible for the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme. During that period, parents have to pay enormous childcare fees, which are really out of kilter with what our European neighbours have to fund. In many instances, the cost is the equivalent of another mortgage. For parents in Ireland, there is an acceptance that this is just how things are. They buckle down for the first few years of their children's lives, knowing they will be financially insecure during that period. They know it will be a stressful and pressurised few years, but they buckle down and get on with it because they do not expect any more from the State. If they were to look at our European neighbours and realise exactly how much better other countries are doing this, parents in this country would feel very aggrieved. Currently, the gap between the end of paid and unpaid leave and the beginning of subsidised preschool in Ireland is 17.6 months, which is a considerable time. We are outlier in that respect. It is a pressurised enough time for parents, so we must narrow that gap and ensure supports are in place. In 12 member states, there is no gap at all, while we have a gap of 17.6 months.

Another thing we find and I have seen quite a bit is when mothers go back to work, because it is usually mothers who return to work, all their salary is going towards childcare costs. They do it because they think that in two years' time their children will be eligible for the ECCE scheme, then start school, and they will then actually start to see some income from the work they are doing. That is no way to live. I ask the Minister to seek to reduce that gap.

My colleague, Deputy Gannon, raised the issue of extending paid parental leave to lone parents. When this Bill and these provisions were first discussed in the Dáil, I believe the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, spoke about it. She said that there will be an extra six weeks' leave available for families when this leave is introduced. The Minister himself also commented at a committee meeting that there will be an extra six weeks' leave available. They both made the assumption that there are two parents in each family. We all know that is not the case. Families come in all shapes and sizes and our policies and supports should reflect that. When we are talking about paid parental leave, there are obvious benefits to a parent being able to spend time with his or her child. However, this must be a child-centred policy and should be about a child spending time with his or her parent or parents. In the case of lone-parent families, if a parent is managing the family on his or her own, they are in particular need of State support and for the State to give him or her the help that he or she needs. This issue was raised before the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration and was put forward as one of the recommendations. It is a missed opportunity that the Minister did not seek to introduce a mechanism by which a lone parent could be given the two allocations of leave so that he or she would have the full entitlement of parental leave. I ask that the Minister does that. It is really important that we support parents who find it particularly difficult parenting alone.

I also want to raise the issue of the rate of payment for this leave and encouraging people to take up this scheme. It is an issue on which we must focus. When the payment is being made, there is an acknowledgement and a need to make sure it is not just mothers who take up this leave. I know that it is an issue of which the Minister is conscious. We must ensure that when there are two parents parenting, both parents take this leave. I do acknowledge there will be barriers in some families, particularly for some men, whether cultural or financial. I ask the Minister to examine that on review of this Bill, looking at how the scheme is working, who is taking the leave, if it is being fully allocated, and how we can address the concerns or barriers in respect of why people may not be taking up all of this leave.

I am sure Members all saw the media reports today that New Zealand has introduced paid leave for women who have suffered a miscarriage. I ask the Minister to look into and examine the possibility of introducing such leave. Currently, there is no provision or support for any woman who loses her baby before 24 weeks' gestation. The options available are to take unpaid leave or sick leave. Even the five days' bereavement leave currently available does not recognise miscarriage. I ask the Minister to look into this issue. A mother should not have to take sick leave when she is not sick. The loss of a baby is an incredibly traumatic event. It is a huge loss to any family. Our leave and supports should recognise that. What New Zealand has done is a very good model and it has shown real leadership with its introduction. I ask the Minster to consider the issue. If a woman loses a baby at ten weeks, 15 weeks or 20 weeks, it is an incredibly difficult time. I ask the Minister to look into supporting those families when they have suffered in such a way.

4:00 pm

Claire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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I support both amendments. They are most important. As has been said, it is really important we review legislation after it has been introduced.

I wish to raise a few points about the amendment in particular. One is the importance of a timeline on further extensions in parent's leave. It is most important. We have seen it last year and this year in particular. This leave was mooted last summer, announced in the budget nearly six months ago in October, and parents had wait on its introduction. Finally, they will be able to take this leave. A timeline in that respect is really important and is something we should all support.

I wish to ask a question on the EU work-life balance directive, which I raised yesterday, and the fact Ireland has to transpose this by June 2022. Perhaps I picked him up wrongly, but I believe the Minister said the Government has until 2024 to introduce the nine weeks' leave in line with the requirements of the directive. I ask the Minister to confirm that and with, that, whether that was an extension to 2024 sought by the Government rather than transposing it by June 2022.

On the issue of lone parents, as a State we have let down lone parents and their families for decades. This legislation is poor in that the babies of lone parents will not have the same support and time with their parent as babies in two-parent families. That is a great shame. We saw the changes that were made to the one-parent family payment back in 2012, and we saw the consequences of that in the Indecon report which showed those very changes made life harder for lone parents in respect of poverty and deprivation. I hope we will not make the same mistake with this Bill, which we will if this amendment is not accepted and the Minister does not outline clearly today how he is going to resolve this issue for lone-parent families.

They have been let down for far too long and the Minister should make that change in the legislation.

Finally, the rate of payment is an important aspect of this legislation. We know there is a low take-up of parent's leave and parental leave, particularly among men, and we need to address that. We can do so by looking at the rate of payment. On European comparisons, it is very low relative to average wages.

4:10 pm

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputies for bringing forward these two amendments, which are very similar. While I understand the intention of the Deputies in proposing that we provide a report on a review of this legislation within a year, I do not consider that to be the best approach. I do not agree that these amendments offer the best way to proceed and I will try to explain why that is the case.

The first issue is the proposal for a further extension of leave and the requirement to report on how that is being progressed. I have made a commitment in this House that Ireland will meet its requirements under the EU directive to roll out the remaining four weeks of paid leave that are specified. The directive has to be transposed into law by June 2022, as Deputy Kerrane noted. However, it states that the last two weeks of paid leave do not have to be provided until August 2024. This is not a derogation specific to Ireland; it applies to all member states. The full nine weeks must be in play by August 2024 and seven weeks have to be provided for by June next year. The current provision is five weeks.

Deputy Whitmore asked whether this could have been done through statutory instrument. The reason we are proceeding by way of legislation is to ensure the two-year period will apply. This element requires legislation to enable it to be claimed in the first two years. One year was set down in the primary legislation and we are amending that to provide for two years. I understand the Deputy is bringing forward an amendment on that point, which we will discuss in due course. Future extensions of the weeks of paid leave will be implemented by way of statutory instrument, which will allow this process to be aligned much more quickly with any announcement. That is something everybody will welcome. Those future extensions will have to be undertaken in engagement with my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, who is responsible for paying the benefit, and, ultimately, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I have been very clear in all my utterances of my intention that this is where my Department will be focusing in terms of supporting families over the coming years. We will meet our requirements in this regard under the EU directive.

The point was made that we should streamline all parental leave legislation, including that providing for maternity leave, paternity leave, parent's leave and benefit, and parental leave. I appreciate that there is a wide variety of types of leave for parents and that this can cause some confusion. On the other hand, it is good that all these types of leave are there to meet particular needs. The amount of leave that is available has increased very significantly in recent years, which is welcome. In terms of meeting the gap that was outlined between the end of maternity leave and eligibility for the ECCE scheme, I am very happy to look at how we can work to publicise in a clearer way the range of leaves that are available. I have been engaging recently with the social partners, including the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and a number of employer groups, on these issues. Indeed, this is an issue that regularly comes up in our discussions with those groups. I am committed to examining how we can better outline to people what the various leaves are and how they can apply for them.

When considering the gap between the end of parental leave, including paid and unpaid parental leave, and the start of the ECCE scheme, it is important to acknowledge that we are narrowing that gap, including by the significant step we are taking today, in this Bill, by extending parent's leave and unpaid parental leave. That is extremely important in encouraging a more equal sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men. It is also important to note that the national childcare scheme, NCS, is in place and kicks in from 24 weeks up to 36 months, or until the child qualifies for the ECCE scheme. It is available for up to 45 hours per week at a 50 cent per hour subvention. Families may also be eligible for an income-assessed subsidy from 24 weeks up to the age of 15. This is set at a progressive rate of up to €5.10 per hour for under-ones and €4.35 for children aged one to three. Undoubtedly, we need to do more to increase these rates and encourage a wider take-up of the NCS. Deputy Whitmore and I have discussed this issue in a wider context and the Government has committed to do that. It is important that we do not put out the message that there is a complete gap between the end of paid maternity leave and eligibility for the fully subsidised ECCE scheme. The new scheme has been in place for only two years. We have a lot more to do to improve it but it is there and I am committed to working further on it.

Reference was made to the rates of payment provided. Parent's benefit is paid at the rate of €245 per week, which is the same rate that applies for maternity and paternity leave. If any change were made to parent's benefit, we would have to look at its impact on the other types of leave. A total of 13,000 claims for parent's leave were made in the first 12 months of its introduction. In January this year, there were just short of 2,500 claims, which represents a significant increase in uptake. The leave is being availed of by parents and by better publicising its existence and how it can be applied for, we will continue to grow the numbers benefiting from it. I am always happy at budget time to speak with the Ministers for Social Protection and Public Expenditure and Reform about how we can best target our resources to have the most impact, whether by raising rates or providing additional weeks of leave.

I absolutely take Deputy Kerrane's point about the much greater risk for children raised in one-parent families of experiencing poverty. There is statistical backup for that claim. Our hands are tied in this particular legislation because we are transposing an EU directive and that directive is entirely clear about the non-transferability of the paid leave. That is set out in Article 5.2 of the directive. The nine weeks that we will eventually provide under the Bill is non-transferable. To create a system whereby it could be transferred would, to my understanding, breach our requirements under the directive.

I made the point yesterday that the range of people who can claim the leave is much wider than the biological parents of the child. As well as parents, it includes civil partners, new spouses in the case of relationship breakdown and co-habitees of a parent. There is a wide range of potential persons who can claim this particular benefit, in recognition of the wide variety of family situations that exist in society. The directive, however, is very clear that this is leave for parents. I take the point the Deputies made in this regard but that is the clear thrust of the directive.

Just reading through its recital, the directive is very much cognisant of the fact that for too long, when leave was transferable, in the vast majority of cases the father's leave was transferred to the mother and traditional assumptions about care were reinforced. That is what this directive is trying to get away from. This directive has increased the amount of non-transferable time. In the original directive, four weeks were non-transferable but that has been raised to nine weeks in this. It was not felt enough was taking place to breach the traditional approach to caring responsibilities.

I have been very clear I am aware we as a country must do more to support one-parent families. We have provisions within the programme for Government to continue the rolling out of the proposals outlined in the Oireachtas joint committee on social protection report on lone parents from 2017. We had a measure from this year's budget that will start in April this year for a one-parent family allowance. There are a range of other measures in the programme for Government with which we are committed to addressing this matter.

Focusing on this one measure as potentially addressing a much wider range of barriers faced by one-parent families is not realistic. In particular, any changes made that would probably be in breach of EU law would only apply to one-parent families from now on and would not address the needs of existing one-parent families. If we are putting in additional resources, we must target all one-parent families.

I take on board the direction of the Deputies' amendments. We must implement the terms of the directive by June next year and much of the work the Deputies are asking us to report on in the context of the amendments must be done anyway. Not only will we report on it but many elements must be addressed either through primary or secondary legislation.

4:20 pm

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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I will be pressing my amendment. I fully accept the bona fides of the Minister in what he outlines but it is not in any way fair to suggest the child of a one-parent family will not be able to avail of the same time at home with a parent but this could be open to spouses or family members when this would not be the case. In many cases the parent in a one-parent family parents the child alone and is isolated. I cannot go back to them while saying I facilitated passage of this Bill because the Minister reassured me a spouse or other family member may emerge in future. It is not good enough.

The amendment seeks to examine ways in which this provision could be extended to one-parent families over the next six months. I understand the provisions of the directive the Minister refers to but there is clearly a lacuna in the law and we can be champions in pushing the discussion at an EU level, if necessary, or coming forward with legislation of our own that can address this question. This omission is unfair and would enshrine inequality in the legislation. We can do more to challenge or even enhance the directive at an EU level. All I am asking for is a process of examination over six months and it is not good enough to say we are simply not going to do that. I will press the amendment.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I will also be pressing my amendment. As part of the Opposition we are very limited in the amendments we can propose. We cannot, for example, make suggestions that place a charge on the Exchequer. This amendment relates only to the monitoring and assessment of legislation and policies being implemented. I have developed policies for the Australian Government and I know it is really important when developing policies and legislation to have a feedback loop built in. We need to know what we do achieves the stated aims and that the process can be improved. We should be constantly looking to improve the measures being put in place.

All this amendment seeks is for the Minister to carry out a review that could have been quite simple and that would consider, assess and examine aspects of this process. I can understand the Minister worrying about limitations about transferability with respect to the EU directive, and this may affect the ability to deal with one-parent families. However, he should be examining ways in which paid parental leave can be extended to one-parent families. It should be high on his agenda. It is only one element and there are many other elements the Government should examine to support one-parent families. This is a key element, nonetheless, and the Minister should consider how to provide this leave to one-parent families.

The Minister should also be looking at how to increase rates of pay and encourage the take-up of schemes. What is contained in the amendment are actions the Minister should be taking as a standard. This is a no-brainer. I am thankful he said he would look at communicating better on the different types of leave available but he should be looking at how to streamline them. This Bill started out as a parental leave Bill but it is now a family leave Bill. There is confusion about what each of these elements mean.

I wondered if we should ask how much time was set aside for each of these types of leave and the conditions required for maternity, paternity or parental leave or parental benefit and if Members would get the answers right if they were asked in the Chamber today. We need to look at streamlining. I understand some of them are very targeted but there should be a simple system for families to follow.

The Minister indicated that the EU requires the Government to have the additional four-week period introduced by 2024. Therefore, the period will extend to seven weeks by June of next year and the EU has stated we must have everything in place under the directive by 2024. We are so far behind other EU countries in this regard and we must take a leadership role. We should not be doing the absolute minimum required of us by the EU. We should not say we will not bring in the remainder of this leave until 2024 because that is what the EU requires us to do. We should look at our families and children within our communities to see what supports they need. We know that is the right action to take, instead of following the EU instruction of having this in place by 2024.

I ask the Minister to take a more proactive approach. I am glad the EU has included a time limit as, unfortunately, we have seen over decades in the country that with our most progressive policies and legislation, the EU banging on our door makes us get it done. I ask the Minister to be more proactive and get to the nine-week period before 2024. He should give the families the support they need. This provision for an additional three weeks is positive and a significant move, but that is because our bar is so low and we have done so little for families in this country when it comes to parental leave. I ask the Minister to do more than what is expected.

This amendment is simple and it is something a Government or policymaker should be doing anyway. I will press the amendment because I would like to see its provisions included in the legislation.

4:30 pm

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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We are being proactive in bringing in the three-week provision this year and in extending it out to the first two years of birth. This extension is to recognise the difficulties new parents have had during the Covid crisis and the lack of traditional supports, be they immediate family supports or the wider societal supports that families normally seek to avail of. We have demonstrated a proactive approach in terms of the amount we have granted this year and the context in which we are granting it. There are other positive steps we are taking in this Bill on adoptive leave, such as removing a discrimination against male same-sex married couples and removing the presumption that adoptive leave would be taken by the mother in an opposite-sex couple who adopt. This Bill demonstrates both a proactive and a progressive approach.

I have outlined that we are undertaking the type of work and consideration set out in both of these amendments, whether in terms of rates or in terms of when we bring in the next increases. However, I cannot make budgetary commitments today. They are part of a cycle. It is a significant amount of money. It will cost €28.6 million in 2021. That will be money well spent as it is a good investment, but significant sums like that have to be planned and negotiated in the context of wider budgetary allocations. We are looking at work in terms of the wider transposition of the directive over the next year and in terms of the legitimate points that have been made on support for one-parent families. I have met with advocacy groups for one-parent families and we discussed this. We discussed other issues as well. There is an issue around the national childcare scheme. Deputy Whitmore and I have talked about the impact of that scheme on certain communities and I am committed to looking at that in the short term to see what immediate interventions we can make to lessen discrimination there and in the medium to long term in terms of the new funding model we are looking at and hopefully will be introducing soon. I have engaged with the Minister for Social Protection on the review of the payment of maintenance. That is a discrete issue but it has been highlighted to me as often having a particular effect on one-parent families. There are a range of issues, some in my Department's remit and some across wider Government, and we will continue to advocate on them. I do not think the absence of this amendment will lessen our commitment on those points.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 55; Níl, 83; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Gary Gannon and Jennifer Whitmore; Níl, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers.

Chris Andrews, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.

Níl

Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Verona Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Amendment declared lost.

4:40 pm

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“Reporting

4. (1) The Minister shall, not later than six months after the passing of this Act, carry out a review of the operation of this Act.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the Minister, as part of the review, shall— (a) conduct policy and budgetary analysis on a potential further extension of leave under this Act, from five weeks to nine weeks and establish a timeline for this provision,

(b) consider the degree to which EU Directive 2019/1158 requires further transposition into Irish law and present a timeline for its full implementation,

(c) assess the possibility of streamlining all parental leave legislation including Maternity/Paternity/Parental Leave and Benefit to simplify parental leave provision,

(d) examine ways to close the substantial gap between the end of parental leave (including paid and unpaid leave entitlements) and the start of Early Childhood Education and Care entitlement,

(e) examine ways in which paid parental leave can be extended to lone parents, and

(f) consider the need to increase the rate of payment for leave under this Act to encourage increased take up of the scheme. (3) The Minister shall, not later than three months after the commencement of the review under subsection (1), make a report to each House of the Oireachtas on the findings of that review, including proposals for policy and legislative reform.”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sections 4 to 24, inclusive, agreed to.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 4 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 4 not moved.

Section 25 agreed to.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendment No. 5 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 5 not moved.

Sections 26 and 27 agreed to.

SECTION 28

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No. 6:

In page 16, line 34, to delete “2 years” and substitute “3 years”.

If a parent wants to take this leave, they have two years in which to do so. We all recognise the past year up-ended everybody's lives. Families have had to undergo huge pressures and changes within their family systems that they never expected. This amendment acknowledges that it was a year that was lost. Many families had to work from home and home school. Parents ended up taking leave that they may not have necessarily have taken previously. This amendment is an acknowledgment of the difficulties families have faced over the past year. Essentially, it would just extend that time period from two years to three years to give families that bit of flexibility and to enable them to actually take leave when it suits them and their children.

I acknowledge what the Minister said earlier on the gap and that there is a scheme available. It is not available to everyone, however. This will also tighten that gap. If we gave families an additional year and extended that period to three years, it would extend that flexibility to families. It would also close that gap between early childhood care and education, ECCE, or the start of school. It would also address the issues concerning the barrier for women returning to work. Three is the perfect number as ECCE begins for most children when they are three years of age.

Will the Minister consider this simple and minor amendment? There are no costs associated with it. It is an administrative arrangement that will go a long way to bring some flexibility back into the system for families.

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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As the leave is currently designed, it has to be taken within the first year of the child's birth. My proposal is that this can be taken in the first two years. Deputy Whitmore's alternative is the first three years. I suppose we are trying to achieve a balance.

The core reason we are bringing it out to two years is that acknowledgement of the difficulties faced by families and by new parents during the Covid crisis. It is an acknowledgement of the inability to access those familial, as well as wider societal, supports that have not been available or accessible because of closures, restrictions or not being able to travel.

The core reasoning behind parental leave is to allow each parent to spend more time with the child in that crucial early period after birth. That is why when the leave was first introduced, it was designated to be taken within that first year period. It was to provide an enhancement for mothers beyond maternity leave and for fathers beyond paternity leave.

We are extending that out to two years. It broadens it out but it is not quite as tight. It still recognises those essential two years. The core reasoning behind this is to take account of what has happened over the past year. It is our stance that taking it out to three years takes us well beyond that early year period and well beyond what the core of the directive is trying to achieve, namely, to ensure mothers and fathers have time to bond with their children, particularly in those crucial early weeks and months. It is the absence of that time to bond which has led to the change in the directive from a previous version where the transferability of leave had been reduced and less leave could be transferred from the mother to the father. That was discussed earlier. Not enough fathers were taking up this particular leave.

The secondary goal behind this particular leave is to promote and facilitate the reintegration of mothers into the labour market after they have taken up their period of maternity leave. That is set out clearly in recital 20 of the directive. To bring this out to three years would move us further away from that crunch point following the end of maternity leave.

We have leave provisions that stretch out longer such as parental leave. I accept that is an unpaid form of leave but it stretches out for a much wider period to provide flexibility for both parents.

With this measure, we are providing a paid support for parents to be in a position to bond with and support their child in the initial period after birth. We have taken the decision to elongate that to two years. That is very much on the basis of what has happened this year and an acknowledgement of that. It is our sense that two years is the ideal number in this particular circumstance.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I acknowledge this is an extension of the status quoas such. By extending it from one year to two, the Minister is acknowledging that Covid has really up-ended everything and made things difficult. This leave is for early days of bonding. By moving it to two years, the Minister is acknowledging that families need that flexibility, not necessarily for that initial bonding time but that they can manage their family life.

We have had a year of Covid. We do not know how much longer this is going to be. We do not know for how much longer families will have to reorganise their schedules. We are not really sure what is going to happen in the coming months. As a sort of precautionary measure, it would be worthwhile to extend this further, even if it was only temporarily. To bring it from the two years to three years would be worthwhile and families would appreciate it.

Families need both unpaid and paid flexibility. The Minister referred to unpaid leave.

That was something the Social Democrats pushed in the previous term and while it was absolutely worthwhile, it was unpaid, which meant many families could not avail of it. The ideal is to have paid leave. I ask that the Minister bring in an extra bit of flexibility to go from two years to three. The difficulties caused by doing so do not outweigh the benefits families would obtain from it.

4:50 pm

Roderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I understand where the Deputy is coming from but this is not something that can be done on a temporary basis. We are dealing with primary legislation here and if we put in three years we would have to bring in primary legislation to take that out if we decided to shorten the period. It is different from dealing with it through a statutory instrument. We are making a significant change to the time period within which parental leave can be taken. We are doubling the period. Doing so does deviate us slightly from the core of what this legislation is trying to do, which is to give parents time in those early weeks and months following the birth of the child. However, there is a very strong reason for that because of Covid and we are recognising the difficulties new parents have had in that context. If we were to take it to the three-year point it would take the Bill a long way from supporting parents in those early months and years. If we made this change according to Deputy Whitmore's amendment, it could not be altered other than through another piece of primary legislation. The position the Government is taking, which is to extend and double that period from one year to two, is the best position to take.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 58; Níl, 83; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Holly Cairns and Jennifer Whitmore; Níl, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers.

Chris Andrews, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Matt Carthy, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, David Cullinane, Pa Daly, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Verona Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.

Níl

Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Simon Coveney, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Amendment declared lost.

5:00 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 24 March: "That in respect of each of the sections undisposed of the section is hereby agreed to in Committee, the Schedule and the Title are hereby agreed to in Committee, and the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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A message will be sent to the Seanad acquainting it accordingly. Gabhaim buíochas libh go léir.