Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Parental Leave Bill 2013: Committee Stage
This new right is given to fathers without any qualification and regardless of whether there is a continuing relationship between the parents, the circumstances of the conception, whether the father is spending time of any nature with his child or making any contribution to the child’s support. We cannot agree to reduce a woman’s entitlement and transfer it to a man without regard to whether he has any involvement with the child. Much work with other relevant Departments remains to be done before the Government can come back with specific proposals.
My Department is currently preparing legislation to consolidate all the family leave legislation – maternity, paternal, adoptive and carer’s leave – into one Bill. Responsibility for carer’s leave has been transferred from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Department of Justice and Equality in the context of the statute law consolidation exercise. This consolidation will involve examination of possible discrepancies and anomalies between the various Acts with a view to making the code more accessible and streamlined. This is a significant statute law consolidation and revision project on which work is ongoing. The Bill also provides an opportunity to look again at the question of leave for new fathers. Work is ongoing and I hope the Bill will be published later this year.
Considerable work needs to be done before the Government can come back to the House with specific amendments to the Bill. Consultation with other relevant Departments is under way but more time is needed to formulate workable proposals. There are serious financial and administrative cost implications in the approach taken in the Bill which cannot be accepted on affordability grounds. The principle is not the issue, it is a question of affordability. However, I assure the House that the Government remains committed to addressing this important issue. We will return with substantial amendments to every provision of the Bill on Report Stage. We might ask at that Stage that the Bill would be recommitted to Committee Stage to ensure that the detail of what we propose can be fully discussed by Members of the House and to give the proposer of the Bill an opportunity to take a serious look at what we propose.
I agree completely with the spirit of the Bill and Senator White’s view that it is important that fathers and their important role in nurturing children is acknowledged. I consider that this is an omission in our current system but we must take account of the economic realities in which we find ourselves and craft something that is workable and acceptable – most of all to women. I am sorry that I am not in a position to give a definitive response today to Senator White but I assure her the Government will be back with such a response as soon as possible. However, there is no point in rushing the legislation. We have waited long enough. God knows women fought long and hard enough for what we have. We all want to get it right.