Wednesday, 6 February 2019
Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee Stage
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation. On this side of the House, despite some of the narrative, there has been extreme activity to try to progress the Bill, as Senator Bacik and other Members know. The Minister of State deserves credit for reaching out. All of us in government support working parents and recognise the motivation of this Bill. We need consensus to arrive at a positive outcome from this Bill. I welcome that the outline of what should be achieved is to give more time to working parents to be with their children. Those of us involved with children in education recognise that the critical time is in the early formative years, where parents have a role to play.
I have spoken to some who have taken the time to email and to others on the doorstep. It is a matter of getting the work-life balance right. For some, time is of the essence. I think that consensus, rather than division, achieves results. I deride those who create a different narrative. We all support the principle of the Bill. We all agree and think it is important to promote the benefits that can accrue from this. This is about quality of life. We all want to support parents. It is all about having a positive outcome. That work-life balance is about work, school, home, children and the benefit they can bring to society.
I do not want to sound a discordant note but I do not believe we can dismiss the IBEC email out of hand. I do not speak for IBEC, nor do I wish to speak for it but in any debate, it is important to reflect on what it puts forward, and dismissing its point of view is unfair. Notwithstanding that, I support the principle of the Bill. I believe, with respect to my good friend, Senator Bacik, that it was a gross mistake by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality not to have pre-legislative scrutiny. I say that having been Chair of a committee for five years in the last Oireachtas, when the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, chaired the justice committee. It was a committee which conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of important legislation relating to both children and health. I believe as a consequence of the pre-legislative scrutiny that many potential difficulties were ironed out. We heard a number of points articulated which perhaps would not have been heard otherwise. I am a strong advocate of, and firm believer in, the need for pre-legislative scrutiny of legislation.
I have met with a number of people in my area in Cork about the Bill. They said that something has to give, that they had too much going on, and that they as the squeezed middle needed to get something. I believe that in politics and in life, the moderate, centre voice must be heard and listened to. We always have the fringe elements in politics and society. In this case, I have met with a number of very moderate people who want to see parental leave extended. I am glad that we are not opposing it at this Stage. I welcome the Minister of State's input and the way in which he is bringing amendments to this Bill.
The Government has not opposed this Bill. I want people to hear that the Government in this Oireachtas and the last Oireachtas made significant policy changes to support families and children.Senators Noone and Hopkins referred to the budget and the allocation of €89 million for childcare, the free preschool year, the ECCE scheme, and the extension of parental leave. Reference was also made to the paternity leave legislation that was introduced, the restoration of child benefit, capitation in schools and the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio. These are all significant points made by the Government. I thank the Minister of State and Senators Bacik and Ardagh for their co-operation on this. I hope there will not be an inordinate delay. It is important that we get this right. The last thing we want is to have this Bill declared unconstitutional. One might say this will not happen but there is potential. The Minister of State outlined the position and he has his advice. I thank him for his contribution.