Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Parental Leave Bill 2013: Committee Stage
I commend Senator White on tabling this Bill. Today has been a good day for the Seanad - a day when the Leader has allowed Opposition Senators to move a number of Bills which have been on the Order Paper for some time. I understand that over the next number of weeks, a number of other Bills on the Order Paper will also be discussed and debated. This is the reason we are here and the decision to proceed in this manner is a positive move by the Leader. Senator White is a Senator who is policy driven and has brought forward Bills which are constructive and which result from engagement with the community and people who will be positively affected by the outcome of Bills such as this. She is to be commended on that.
The Constitutional Convention sat last weekend and discussed the possibility of including social, economic and cultural rights in the Constitution. It was very interesting to observe in the discussions taking place in the workshops and in contributions from the floor that there was all-party support for the concept of including social, economic and cultural rights in the Constitution. It struck me that we are moving in the right direction in this State, which is still a young State. Some 100 years ago, anti-slavery laws were being introduced in the US and in this country the right to vote for everybody was being introduced. These rights and the right of women to vote were all seen as radical ideas in their time, but now we take them for granted. We are moving in the right direction all the time and those of us who are progressive and on the left are always trying to push out the boundaries and force states to do the right thing. I believe the Constitutional Convention was thinking of issues like the one raised in this Bill when discussing social, economic and cultural rights.
I do not wish to make a Second Stage speech, but I do wish to make two comments before we come back to this on Report Stage. I am a firm believer in the Scandinavian model, which has a lot to offer. I do not believe we can just pick a model that exists in any one country and say it will work for us. Whatever we decide on must be a solution for the people of this State, for parents and for the economy and resources must be taken into account. However, it is worth looking at the Scandinavian model. It invests 1% of GDP in early childhood education, whereas we spend just a quarter of that.
This brings us back to a discussion we have had previously. We had a debate on the same issues in regard to mental health, but that debate was unhelpful in some ways because of other issues being brought into it. The issue is whether we want to pay for these services and whether we want to raise enough taxation to allow us put services like this in place. I am sure we will have the same debate when it comes to universal health care. It must be paid for and we must decide whether the moneys required should come from progressive taxation. I would say "Yes". I would like to see a universal child care system, but it must be paid for and must be paid for through progressive taxation. Therefore, I am prepared to support progressive taxation.
One issue I would like to raise, and I will bring forward an amendment on this on Report Stage, is the need for paid paternity leave. This is something we need in this State. Sinn Féin policy is that it would like to see a move towards the international standard, of at least one year's paid leave after the birth of a child and two weeks statutory paternity leave. That would be a huge step in the right direction for parents and children. I understand there is a cost implication, but it is about getting the right work-life balance and about ensuring both parents get the opportunity to bond with their children at as early a stage as possible. Unfortunately, fathers do not get those opportunities currently because they are not there.
We are moving in the right direction and the Bill being discussed today gives us an opportunity to discuss the issues. I welcome the helpful contribution and clarifications given by the Minister of State today and commend Senator White on her excellent work in this area.