Tuesday, 19 July 2016
Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages
I thank Senators for their support for and contributions to the Bill the last day and for supporting the Bill today. I would like to emphasise the importance of this Bill in the context of the commitment of the Government and all Members to give children the best possible start in life and to furthering equality and recognising the different types of families that exist in Ireland.
Two issues arose. Senator Maria Byrne asked if it proposed to include in the Bill a provision to allow a father to take time off to accompany the partner or surrogate mother to antenatal appointments, as is the case in the UK. This Bill will not provide for time off to accompany an expectant mother to antenatal appointments. The objective of the Bill was always to meet the Government’s commitment in the last budget to two weeks paternity leave and benefit. Changes to existing family leave legislation would be well outside the scope of the Bill and would have required Government decisions for which there was simply no time, if the deadline of September was to be met. The proposed family leave Bill, which the Government has approved and is currently being drafted, will address all existing family leave legislation, such as parental leave, carer's leave, maternity leave and adoptive leave, and consolidate the legislation into one Act.
The Senator also asked if the individual taking paternity leave could be someone other than the biological father. I am very happy to be able to confirm that this is the case. The Bill creates an entitlement to paternity leave for a relevant parent who, in addition to being the father of the child, is also defined as the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant, as the case may be, of the mother of the child and, in the case of a child who is being adopted, the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant, as the case may be, of the adopting mother or sole male adopter, or a parent of the child under section 5 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 where the child is a donor-conceived child within the meaning of Part 2 of that Act. I hope my answer will satisfy the Senator.
I thank all of the Senators for their contributions the last day, their co-operation and their constructive comments. I also thank the officials from both Departments who have worked very hard to bring this Bill to where it is today. This is groundbreaking legislation and we want to continue this kind of equality work.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his successful stewardship of this important and ground-breaking legislation that will lead to the incremental equalisation of all citizens in this country. That is what we are all here to achieve and some day we will have a society where everybody is equal. This legislation empowers the fathers of young children and ensures that both parents play an equal role in the upbringing of children. Senator Lombard has notified us that he will become the father of twins in a few weeks' time. I am not sure how paternity leave works for Members of the Oireachtas but I am sure he will take some leave.
I thank Senators Wilson, Ó Donnghaile and Clifford-Lee for their co-operation on this Bill. When something is the right thing to do, it is great when this House comes together and supports it because, ultimately, everyone is in politics to do the right thing. We do not always agree on what is the right thing to do in this House. A precedent has existed - certainly for the five years prior to this legislation - that when something is fundamentally the right thing to do, this House usually comes together and sends out a clear message that this is what Seanad Éireann believes in, wants and would like to happen in the future. I hope that we will see the terms and conditions of this Bill used by fathers. I also hope that men will be supported by companies and that bosses will encourage them not to be afraid to look for this leave because the traditional ways could easily kick-in and prevent people from availing of this leave. I sincerely hope that society has matured sufficiently that this will cost more than €20 million because, hopefully, a lot more people will take advantage of this leave. Perhaps the terms and conditions will be extended and improved in the years to come. It is a good day for Dads and expectant Dads.
I commend the Minister of State and this Bill. I wish the legislation every success. We have had a positive and an informative series of contributions on this legislation. It is progress and a step forward and I hope that the provision will be utilised. This is a cross-cutting Bill. At its heart are the rights of a particular child to have time with and the benefit of having his or her father for the developmental stage which is a critical period in the life of a child, as research has shown. The legislation also enshrines the rights of the father in question. It is important that we send a clear message from this Chamber, as this Bill progresses, to employers that at the heart of this legislation are the rights and entitlements of the worker and that regardless of one's position, one has the right afforded to him to spend time with his child.
Again, I welcome this positive legislation. In terms of my previous contribution, and without taking anything away from the Minister of State, his officials or the work that has been done on this legislation, I believe we can do more. I take heart from the fact the Minister of State has acknowledged that. Go n-éirí leis an reachtaíocht seo agus go n-éirí an t-ádh leis an Aire Stáit ar an ábhar seo.
On behalf of the Civil Engagement group, I commend the Minister of State and the Bill, which is an excellent one. It is particularly gratifying as this is an area I worked on previously with the National Women's Council of Ireland, in my former role campaigning with Start Strong and ICTU trying to drive this forward. There was positive engagement by the Government on this issue. We had a very constructive engagement.
The Bill is an important step forward in valuing care, in recognising care as the lifeblood of society and in addressing the balance of care between parents to recognise the role of fathers and other partners in caring and in the relationship with their children. The legislation places a real, symbolic and concrete value on that.
I commend some of the choices made. It is excellent that paternity leave is a stand-alone right and separate from maternity leave. It is a right that will be held by fathers and partners. That was the right decision. I also commend the fact that the legislation extends to people in same-sex partnerships and same-sex marriages, which is very important.
I have a small concern but I think it is one we can address constructively in the future. Paternity leave can be taken at quite a late stage. I am concerned about that, given that the original purpose of the legislation was for paternity leave to be taken concurrently with maternity leave in order to allow parents to simultaneously bond with their new child and spend time caring for their child. We must monitor that it does not become the case that paternity leave is always taken subsequently. I know that is a capacity within the Bill but I believe that function rightly belongs to paid parental leave. I have no doubt the Minister of State will drive forward progress on paid parental leave as the next step in that recognition of care within society.
Lastly, I urge positive engagement by all parties within society with this Bill. I urge employers to engage constructively and positively to see this as a way of valuing their employees and of recognising their employees as whole people with full lives. I also urge that we have an awareness campaign to ensure that people avail of paternity leave. Perhaps the Minister of State might speak to the Department of Social Protection and other Departments about an awareness campaign.
I commend the Bill. It is a symbolic and important step forward. We are happy to support the legislation.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. On behalf of the Labour Party group, I welcome the passage of this historic Bill. It was an initiative of the previous Government and was first proposed by the then Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton.We have all been united in our support. It is long overdue, but it is good to see its speedy passage though the Seanad and we all look forward to its speedy implementation. I know that it requires a commencement order, but we can anticipate that it will be put in place swiftly to enable prospective fathers to avail of a new entitlement without further delay.
This is an important Bill in terms of gender equality. It will be the first time we will see specific recognition of fathers in the workplace, which is progressive. Significantly, it is also progressive that it applies to same sex married as well as opposite sex married couples, which is welcome. It is very important for women because it means that child care will no longer be seen as primarily or exclusively a women's issue. Perhaps most importantly, as the Minister of State said, it is also significant for children's rights because it will ensure all children will get the best possible start in life by ensuring their fathers will have rights and entitlements to leave at the time of their birth. I know that many prospective fathers are eagerly anticipating implementation of the legislation, as I know we all are.