Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill 2019: Second Stage

 

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:30 am

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to address the House on Second Stage of the Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill 2019. This Bill has its origin in a commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to increase paid parental leave in the first year of a child's life. Senators may also be aware that a provision was included in the general scheme of the Bill to address the lacuna in the law whereby male same-sex couples who adopt jointly are not eligible for adoptive leave even though they can adopt. This situation arises because the only people entitled to adoptive leave are adopting mothers and sole male adopters. A female couple possibly could claim adoptive leave as one or both of them could be regarded as adopting mothers but the law clearly needs to be reformed to address the situation of both genders. I had strongly hoped to be in a position to bring this forward at this time but the urgency attending this Bill and the desire to introduce parent's leave by 1 November meant that we ran out of time. It is my strong intention to address the issue in a forthcoming civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill which will proceed without delay. I know Senators here are very anxious that this be done and I am as well. I just want to put that on the record at the very start because it is on my mind and I was concerned about it. We are under terrible time pressure to get this Bill over the line by November and my officials just physically did not have the time to get it done properly. Everything would be delayed a lot longer if that happened. I am giving a commitment now to get this done as soon as possible in the next civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill which hopefully will come through without too long a delay.

Leave for parents at this time has a significant positive impact. The experiences early in life are critical in establishing the foundation for learning, work and future health. Evidence shows that children benefit from being cared for and spending time with both parents at this time. Parent's leave will give an opportunity to fathers additional to that provided by the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act 2016 to take part in the care of their child at this young age. Evidence from countries such as Norway shows that parent's leave, aside from its benefit for the child and positive impact on fatherhood, promotes equality for women and supports higher levels of female participation in the labour force. It facilitates women in combining paid work with caring for their children and, in this way, makes it more likely that they will remain in the labour force.

The commitment in the programme for Government that I have just mentioned gave rise to interdepartmental consultations on its implementation. The outcome was that the Government decided to develop a new social insurance based, non-transferable paid parental leave scheme of two weeks' leave to each parent to be taken in the first year of a child's life for employees and the self-employed. The Government approved the general scheme of the Bill that was needed to put this into effect and this scheme was published on 23 April last. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality waived pre-legislative scrutiny because of the urgency of the Bill in view of our commitment to introduce the leave and benefit with effect from 1 November 2019. I am very grateful to the committee for this and we, for our part, have endeavoured to present to the House what I believe is a well-considered proposal which expands significantly the family leave available to new parents while also having regard to the need to minimise the burden that this will bring for employers.

The overall significance of the Bill is that it provides for parent's leave of two weeks' duration, which can be increased to a maximum of nine weeks by order of the Minister for Justice and Equality. It also provides for the payment of parent's benefit where the parent fulfils the relevant eligibility conditions. This leave will be a stand-alone entitlement with no sharing permitted and will not affect any existing entitlements such as maternity, adoptive, paternity, and unpaid parental leave. Section 2 contains provisions on interpretation. Most importantly, it defines "relevant parent", that is, the person who will be entitled to parent's leave, as follows:

“relevant parent”, in relation to a child, means a person who is—(a) in the case of a child who is, or is to be, adopted—
(i) the adopting mother or sole male adopter of the child,

(ii) the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant, as the case may be, of the adopting mother or sole male adopter of the child, or

(iii) where the child is, or is to be, adopted jointly by—
(I) a married couple of the same sex,

(II) a couple that are civil partners of each other, or

(III) a cohabiting couple of the same sex,
each of the couple referred to in clause (I), (II) or (III),
and

(b) in any other case—
(i) a parent of the child,

(ii) the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant, as the case may be, of a parent of the child, or

(iii) 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;

This is quite a broad definition and Senators may already have noted that more than two people could, in some situations, be relevant parents, for example, where the parents are not married to each other and either or both parents are married to other people. Section 5 creates the entitlement to two weeks' leave for a relevant parent of a child who is adopted or born on or after 1 November 2019. The purpose of the leave is to enable the parent to provide or assist in the provision of care to the child. A key point is that this is the purpose of the leave. A person may be a relevant parent but will not be entitled to the leave if they are not fulfilling this purpose. Leave can be taken as a continuous period or in minimum periods of one week. The two weeks' duration can be extended by order of the Minister for Justice and Equality up to a maximum of nine weeks. Such an order will require the prior approval by resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. Usually, parliamentary oversight of the making of ministerial orders takes the form of a power on the part of either House to annul an instrument that has already been made. The positive resolution requirement here is in recognition of the significance of this ministerial power, that is to increase the amount of parent's leave up to a maximum of nine weeks.

Section 6 provides that the relevant parent shall give the employer six weeks' notice of the intention to take parent's leave. Section 7 covers the allocation of parent's leave. The leave shall be taken in the first year of the child's life or, in the case of adoption, in the year after placement. Notwithstanding this, the period is extended where the parent cannot take the leave due to postponement under sections 13 or 14.These deal, respectively, with postponement by the employer and postponement on the hospitalisation of the child. In such cases, the failure to take the leave within a year cannot be regarded as the fault of the parent and the extension beyond a year is justified on this basis. There is a further exception where the leave cannot be taken within the year due to the requirement to give six weeks of notice, such as where a parent dies and the untaken leave transfers to the other parent, in accordance with section 16, very close to the expiry of the year.

Sections 7(4) and 7(5) provide, in the case of adoption and birth respectively, that where this takes place between 1 November next and the commencement of the section, the one-year period runs from the date of commencement. This deals with the situation in which passage of the Bill may be delayed and ensures that the eligibility date of 1 November will still apply and that parents will have the full year in which to take the leave. I hope that such a situation does not arise but if it were to arise, these provisions will minimise negative consequences for parents.

Sections 8 to 10, inclusive, provide for the sequencing of types of leave where a parent is entitled to more than one type of leave. The general approach adopted is that maternity, adoptive and paternity leave are to be taken first as they are inherently related to the event of birth or adoption. As parent's leave is for the care of the child over the first year of life, it should naturally follow the other forms of leave. However, a qualifying parent will be entitled to take parent's or paternity leave in any order wished. This policy was adopted as it was felt there was a potential danger that parents could confuse parent's and paternity leave. The policy is designed to avoid a case where a parent would take parent's leave first and therefore would be ineligible to take paternity leave. In such a case, it would be regarded as harsh to deny the person the paternity leave.

Section 13 provides for postponement of leave at the initiative of the employer where the taking of leave would have a substantial adverse effect on the business or organisation. An example of this would be where there are seasonal peaks. The postponement may last up to a maximum of 12 weeks. Postponement under this section can only take place once in respect of each period of leave applied for. This section is similar but not identical to section 11 of the Parental Leave Act 1998, which provides for unpaid parental leave. It is important that employers have this possibility but we should also note that the standard for exercising it is that the taking of leave would have a substantial adverse effect on the operation of the business, profession or occupation.

Section 14 provides that the parent may request the employer to postpone leave if the child is hospitalised. This reflects similar provisions in the legislation on maternity, adoptive and paternity leave. Section 15 provides for continuation of entitlement to leave where the child dies. Maternity, adoptive and paternity leave operate in this way as well. Section 16 provides for the entitlement of an employed surviving parent to the untaken leave of a parent who dies. The transfer of leave on death is also a feature of maternity, adoptive and paternity leave.

Section 19 provides for the protection of employees from penalisation having proposed to exercise or having exercised the entitlement to parent's leave. This is a standard provision in family leave legislation. Section 20 contains a general right to return to work on the same terms and conditions that applied prior to the parent taking leave. Section 24 contains provisions on the exercise of jurisdiction by an adjudication officer of the Workplace Relations Commission and by the Labour Court on appeal in the case of disputes relating to parent's leave.

Part 5 provides for the introduction and payment of parent's benefit in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. Section 29 introduces a new Chapter 11B to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 that sets out the general qualifying conditions for receipt of parent's benefit payable for two weeks to employees and the self-employed, the required social insurance contributions, which are aligned with the requirement in place for maternity and paternity benefit, and the weekly rate of benefit payable, which is also in line with that for maternity and paternity leave, which is €245 per week. The benefit will be payable in a continuous period or in individual blocks of one week.

Part 6 contains miscellaneous provisions including consequential amendments of other Acts. Section 36 is a substantive rather than a technical provision. It amends the Adoptive Leave Act 1995 to provide that, where a stepparent adopts a child and adoptive or maternity leave was previously taken in respect of that child by a previous partner of the other parent, the adopting stepparent shall not be entitled to adoptive leave. A consequential amendment is made to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act in section 28 relating to entitlement to adoptive benefit. That is the substance of what we propose.

At this point, I will say a few words on European Union work-life balance directive and its relationship with this Bill. The directive, which concerns work-life balance for parents and carers, was formally adopted on 13 June 2019 and came into force on 1 August. It requires member states to provide for four months of parental leave, two months or nine weeks of which shall be non-transferable. This non-transferable leave must be paid at a rate to be determined by member states. Member states have until 2 August 2022 to transpose this provision except for the final two weeks of paid leave element, which must be transposed by 2 August 2024. The purpose of the Bill before the House is to implement the commitment in the programme for Government, not to transpose the directive, although it does not create any obstacle to complying with the directive either. My Department will address transposition, which goes beyond the question of parental leave, in due course with a view to preparing the necessary measures in sufficient time to comply with the deadlines specified.

The current Bill is an important reform in that it introduces paid parent's leave for the first time, thereby going beyond maternity, adoptive and paternity leave, which are the existing forms of family-related paid leave. This adds to the increases in recent years in the provision of family leave. In this context, I mention the Paternity Leave and Benefit Act, which was passed in 2016, providing two weeks of paid paternity leave for fathers, the Social Welfare Act 2017 providing for longer maternity leave, with the associated benefit, in the case of premature births, and the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act 2019 providing for an increase in unpaid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks, with effect from 1 September 2019 and to 26 weeks from 1 September 2020. With that legislation, there was also an increase in the upper age limit of the child in respect of whom the leave is taken from eight to 12 years. I acknowledge that the latter measure was based on a Private Members' Bill tabled by Deputies Shortall and Catherine Murphy that was passed with the co-operation of the Government. This has left us with a substantial body of family leave going well beyond the requirements of European Union law.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that to implement the requirement in the work-life balance directive for four months of parental leave, two of which must be paid, equivalent to 18 and nine weeks respectively, the only thing required of us would be to provide that nine weeks of the existing parental leave under the Parental Leave Acts 1998 to 2019 be paid. Pursuant to the programme for Government, however, we are going well beyond this with the current Bill and providing potentially nine additional weeks of paid parent's leave. I am very happy to share responsibility for these developments as these are reforms that were very much needed. They are important for the development of the next generation, for helping parents reconcile their parenting role with paid work and for promoting gender equality through facilitating women in continuing paid careers after becoming mothers. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators and I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his very comprehensive opening statement. I certainly will not repeat what he said in his very detailed outline of what is involved in the Bill. I hope there is unanimity in the House that this is positive and we can get through the business of dealing with the Bill quickly.

Fianna Fáil is proud and happy to support this Bill, which will provide each parent of a child under the age of one with two weeks of paid parent's leave. This benefit will be available to parents of children born after 1 November 2019, which is quite soon. I know the Minister of State outlined delays etc. and we discussed last night how people will have children in that window of time and whether they will miss out if the baby is born on 31 October instead of 1 November. This benefit is separate from parental leave, which is unpaid.

My party wholeheartedly welcomes this initiative. This payment will provide working parents with the opportunity to spend some more time with their new baby during its first year of life. I hope the "use it or lose it" nature of the entitlement will encourage more men to take leave from their employment. Parental leave policies that support fathers' involvement are a powerful policy tool in tackling gender inequality. Studies have demonstrated that fathers who play an active role in the initial stages of their child's life are more likely to share child rearing duties later in life. I am sure in this day and age that this happens anyway but it is what the studies have shown. This in turn reduces the imbalance between the men and women in terms of responsibility for domestic duties and supports women's participation in the workforce, which is crucial.

If our positions were swapped, the Minister of State might put the argument I will make that this Government's record on childcare costs is poor. Practical support for working parents is very much needed. The OECD average for childcare costs is 12.6% of net family income but in Ireland that figure is more than twice as high, at 27.4%. Families are spending a staggering amount of net income on childcare costs. In the parts of Dublin where I served as a councillor, it amounts to a phenomenal cost per child. It can amount to €1,000 or €1,500 in many cases. Our percentage is the second highest in Europe and the Government is not doing enough to change this. The OECD's Education at a Glance 2017 report indicates that Ireland's expenditure on early childhood years education was only 0.1% of gross domestic product, GDP.We can argue about GDP figures a little, but it is compared with the EU average of 0.8%. There is eight times the difference between the EU average and what we are doing. The average rate of pay in the childcare sector is €11.18 per hour, which is well below the living wage. Nothing in yesterday's budget provides any comfort that this is going to change in the foreseeable future.

While the provisions of this Bill are welcome, it would be remiss of us not to take this opportunity to highlight the Government's failings in supporting working families. I acknowledge that the Minister of State is not the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Budget 2020 has failed to address the crisis in childcare. The Bill before the House provides that the paid leave entitlement will apply in respect of babies who are born after 1 November 2019, which is less than four weeks away. Although I am happy to facilitate its passage as quickly as possible, I am concerned that employers have been given very little time to make arrangements to facilitate this additional period of leave. I hope the Minister of State can explain the delay to a greater degree than it has been explained to date. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, announced in April to much fanfare that this benefit would become available. The Bill did not undergo any pre-legislative scrutiny in advance of its publication on 4 October last. Senators were given a limited number of hours to consider the Bill and submit any proposed amendments. The Minister of State has acknowledged that this is not how we should be doing our business. I am not having a go at him personally. Nonetheless, we will support the Bill. I thank the Minister of State for his opening statement. I look forward to the Bill being passed as quickly as possible.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. The Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 is a key component of the Government's commitment in this area, as set out in A Programme for a Partnership Government. I am delighted that Fianna Fáil is facilitating the quick passage of the Bill through the House in the interests of confidence and supply. I know that parents all over the country are waiting in anticipation of the passage of the Bill. Now that this country's unemployment rate has decreased to 5.2%, we need to think outside the box as we seek to supply a high-quality workforce to businesses and various other interests in this country while facilitating people as they seek to achieve a work-life balance. All parents want to spend as much time as they can with their children.

While this Bill is an incremental step in the right direction, I think we will all acknowledge that much more needs to be done. If we can strike a proper balance between lifestyle and work, we will have a far better society, a far healthier society and a far happier society at work and at home. To that end, this Bill is a significant step in the right direction. We have a great deal to do to facilitate people who wish to work from home, which is an ideal situation. We all meet people from time to time who work from home, and we hear about the benefits of doing so. Last night, I spoke to a man whose wife works for IBM. She works from home three or four days a week. He maintains that she believes she is far more productive, and achieves much more, when she works from home. The whole principle of lifestyle balance is important. This Bill goes a long way towards achieving that.

I thank the Minister of State for bringing this Bill before the House. I sincerely hope we can expedite it through the House today. I look forward to families in my constituency and throughout the whole country benefitting immediately from the provisions of this Bill at the start of next month. I am thinking particularly of people who are trying to plan childcare. I fully acknowledge the challenges with childcare. It is a challenge all over the country. People encounter this challenge when they are going back to work because they cannot get high-quality childcare. Much needs to be done. By getting this done, we are doing something that is worthwhile and is in the interests of parents and young children. I welcome the Bill.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I would like to refer to an article that was published in The Irish Times on 23 April last under the headline "Adoptive benefit to be paid to gay couples under new law" and the subheading "Legal anomaly left male same-sex adoptive parents unable to claim State benefit". It states:

An anomaly in the law that prevented male same-sex couples from receiving adoptive leave and benefit is set to be resolved by legislation that has been approved by the Cabinet.

Ministers last week consented to the change, which will seek to resolve the issue that arose after the referendum approving same-sex marriage was passed in 2015 and has since been raised in the Dáil by Government and Opposition TDs.

Adoptive benefit is paid to parents to support them during a period of adoptive leave. Currently, an employed adopting mother or a single father is entitled to 24 weeks' adoptive leave and the associated benefit.

The Cabinet last week approved the general scheme of the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019, which gives effect to previous announcements on parental leave and will also close the adoptive leave legal loophole if passed through the .

, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, said the proposals are "the final steps needed to enable male same-sex couples to receive adoptive leave and benefit".

"This is further progress towards ensuring equality for all families," he said, adding that he hoped that colleagues on all sides of the Dáil and Seanad would work to implement it.

I do not know. I am happy to work to implement it. How can we be expected to support a Bill that excludes a cohort of people who were promised that they would be included in it? Senator Norris and I will have to go back to the community to tell gay fathers and prospective fathers, with whom we communicated prior to this debate, that they have to wait yet again because another aspect of this matter has been deemed to be a legislative priority. The Bill itself is fine. Obviously, it is a good Bill. However, I do not like being put in a position in which I have to support legislation which glaringly excludes gay men. We see this time and again. The bloody Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 has left us with a mess. It seems to me that LGBT parents, in particular, are left behind. That can sometimes be said of the LGBT community as a whole. The 2015 Act, for which the Department of Justice and Equality is ultimately responsible, will not be fully commenced until five years after it was enacted and five years after we passed the referendum on civil marriage equality. I do not know. I would like to hear more about why some elements of this Bill, as announced in April, have been excluded from it now.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the support of Senator Warfield. I am not sure he was aware of this matter until I asked him to stand for a vote. To be quite clear about it, there is nothing whatsoever on this subject in the printed text of the Minister of State's speech. He added some impromptu remarks on it, perhaps when he saw that two gay Members of the House were present.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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We should be more impromptu here.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Yes. I am certainly impromptu. I do not read my speeches, but I am going to read a few things into the record. This is not acceptable. I am going to set out why it is completely unacceptable. The draft heads of the Bill suggested that there would be a resolution to the issue of gay male couples not being entitled to adoptive leave or benefit. As it stands, only single male adopters or women can avail of this. The Bill, as drafted, does not include the sections that would have corresponded to heads 36 and 39 of the general scheme of the Bill, in which this issue was addressed. This lacuna in the law was addressed when the general scheme of the Parental Leave and Benefit Bill 2019, as it was then known, was issued in April. As Senator Warfield stated, it was noted at the time in the press release from the Department of Justice and Equality, in Gay Community Newsand in articles in The Irish Timesthat the Bill would resolve this anomaly. However, the relevant section has disappeared. I have correspondence from people who have written repeatedly to the Department of Justice and Equality without receiving a single reply. Not once have they received a reply.The Minister of State can shake his head as much as he likes but I am taking the word of my correspondents. This has been going on for quite a long time. I point out that at the time of the Seanad debate on the Bill in July 2016, this very same Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, stated that he was aware of the anomaly but it was not possible to resolve it in the time available for the Bill. That was three years ago yet we are still getting the same excuse that there is not time.

The Minister of State had three years and that should have been enough. He stated that the Department of Justice and Equality would bring forward amendments to the Adoptive Leave Acts following examination of the adoptive leave and social welfare legislation provisions that would need to be amended. He stated at that time that this would be done "in other legislation as soon as possible and not later than the end of the year," which was three years ago, in 2016. What is the problem? I would certainly like to know.

My correspondents state that the current lack of provision makes it less likely that male same-sex couples will adopt as the cost is increased hugely if one partner must give up their job to care for the child, rather than being able to avail of adoptive leave, and would also potentially face a loss of future earnings if unable to re-enter the workforce at the same level. That is the situation on the ground.

They continue:

While it is not likely that a child would be placed with us before the end of the year, it is also not unlikely. It is a cause of some concern to us that we still have no clarity on what to expect and so will not be in a position to make fully informed choices on whether we potentially decline the placement of a child with us, or consider whether one of us must give up their job.

That is the real human situation they are in after three years of procrastination and delay without adequate explanation.

They continue:

As children being adopted from the US often have developmental or addiction issues, we would definitely want and need to have one of us full-time with any child we adopt for longer than two weeks (the current extent of parental leave). We would want to act in the best interests of that child and provide full-time care from one parent. The shifting timelines make it difficult to plan and we have already ourselves delayed moving forward with the adoption for a number of years, pending same-sex marriage legislation, permission for same-sex couples to adopt jointly, and now this. We could of course wait for the legislation to be amended at some point in the next years. However, we may by then be too old to adopt. We did call the Workplace Relations Commission but their advice was simply that they could not advise us unless we took a case, which we could only take after a. adopting a child, b. applying for adoptive leave, and c. being turned down (at which point one of us would have had to quit their jobs to care for the child). It will be really difficult to go into a situation where we tell a birth mother that the income of her child's new family will probably be halved after the adoption or that we will have to enter into a legal battle with my employer in order to get time off.

This clearly is not equality. It is not just fathers but mothers as well. I have had a communication from two women. I will not go through the whole communication but they wrote a poem and I would like to end by putting the poem on the record.

Considered a single mother and yet,

Our girls have two parents. And don't you forget...

That we voted for marriage equality.

But what we have is not equal. Not really you see.

It's a double standard and every way we lose.

All we want is fairness - yet we can't even choose,

To have both our kids parents recognised in law.

We are Irish citizens - and yes we are both Mná.

Something so simple, a passport application.

Should have been easy, but for a small stipulation.

That I sign away my wife as though she doesn't exist.

My entire life with a single signature dismissed.

My family is equal though my country doesn't see.

All the hurt and humiliation it's been causing me.

And countless others who are in the same boat.

Come on Ireland we can do better. Didn't we already vote?

I would say to the Minister of State, "Come on, Minister, you can do better." He gave the excuse in 2016 that he did not have time to draft the legislation. In the heads of the Bill, the appropriate sections were drafted and it was announced to the press yet, once again, we have a situation where this has to be rushed through and there is no room for gay people in it. That is intolerable. It is not acceptable in this House. With the greatest regret, because I support parental leave, I will be calling for a vote, and if I am allowed a vote, I will be voting against this Bill. It is time that manners were put on the Department and that it lived up to its responsibilities to look after all the children. It is not in the Constitution but it is in the Proclamation that we cherish all the children of the nation equally. This Government, this statement and the speech of the Minister of State today, with its hurried reference to same-sex couples, which is not in the printed text of the speech, is not good enough, and I, as a parliamentarian, do not accept it.

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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This Bill is positive. I thank the Minister of State for his work on this issue. We know that parents want choice, flexibility and the opportunity to spend as much time with their children as possible. Given also the huge challenges around the costs of childcare, an array of options for supporting families is important because every family situation is different. We know how vital the early years are in terms of development of the child and it is important that all parents would have the ability to spend that time with their children in a financially viable way.

It is important that this payment is in addition to the existing maternity, paternity and adoptive leave entitlements. As the Minister of State said, the Government intends to increase the paid leave available to new parents over time, which is very welcome. Obviously, there have been changes to parental leave. Since September 2019, a parent can take 22 weeks of parental leave for each eligible child and that has been extended up to the child's 12th birthday. Before this, it was 18 weeks to be taken before the child's eighth birthday.

Therefore, there have been positive changes, although more needs to be done. We have heard the concerns today in regard to ensuring that all parents have access to this leave, and I am sure the Minister of State is taking that on board. It very much signals a more flexible attitude to the challenges of life outside of work. It also has the potential to boost a parent's feeling of goodwill towards their employer, along with, from the employer's point of view, allowing for greater retention within the workforce, and particularly so in the case of women.

I thank the Minister of State for his work on this issue. We know more needs to be done and I am sure he will take the concerns on board.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I heard what the Fianna Fáil Senator said with regard to the delay and I am sorry for the delay in presenting this Bill. We wanted to get it right. An important concern is the burden it places or may place on employers. A huge amount of work was done to get that right so it would not be challenged later on. I cannot emphasise enough the amount of work my officials put into this, along with the Office of the Attorney General and the Parliamentary Counsel. A huge amount of effort went into consulting with others to get the main thrust of this over the line, as we have it.A number of mitigating factors, such as the six-week notice, were included on foot of that. In due course, we were satisfied that the costs imposed on employers were not disproportionate, having regard to the benefits of this scheme for parents, children and society. There is a balance there which we have to get right.

This Bill includes same-sex couples and its provisions will be available to same-sex couples. The lacuna I mentioned earlier refers specifically to adoptive leave and benefit which will be addressed in the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I was anxious to include it in this Bill but we ran out of time. There were so many complications and details we had to get right, otherwise the whole Bill might not have gone through. I regret the delay in addressing that lacuna. It is at the top of our list and we will get it done when the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill comes through. We had hoped to include it here but it was not possible to do so.

I am also conscious that one of the few groups in society without access to any form of official leave are Members of the Oireachtas. This is a matter which I have addressed previously. It is something about which we need to talk. One possible option would be to have some form of substitution for Members for a period. I have spoken to colleagues here, both mothers and fathers, who have been in this position. The work and demands never stop for them and it is a huge challenge. If we want to attract more people into politics, young people in particular, we need to look at this. We have to talk about it, debate it and see if we can change our way of doing business so that Members could have substitutes during their leave. Substitution is one suggestion, but there may be others. It is unfair that Members of the Houses cannot spend time with their new babies like everyone else in society now can. We may need to address this at a future date. We will have to get our heads around it and see what we can do to improve that situation for people here.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State and the Senators. The question-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I do not accept what the Minister of State says.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator cannot-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I ask the Minister what happened to pages 36 and 39-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is out of order.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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-----which were in the Bill in July.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator has had his say.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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What happened to them? The Minister of State has not answered that.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator should show some respect.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It is an absolute disgrace. He is giving the same excuse-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is a disgrace. As the father of the House, he is acting disgracefully.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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-----he gave three years ago. It is not good enough and it does not wash in this House.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Senator Norris is out of order. He has had his say and it is on the record. I am putting the question-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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More will be on the record because I am going to say more. I am fed up with inequality in this country.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator can say more when we get to the next Stage.

Question put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 3.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony; Níl, Senators David Norris and Colette Kelleher.

Question declared carried.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Can I point out that there is not even the possibility of an amendment to this Bill being taken in the House today? It is a complete disgrace and I am leaving the Chamber in protest.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That might be a relief to the other Senators.