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 Header Item Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item Business of Dáil
 Header Item Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016: Second Stage

Friday, 24 June 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 914 No. 4

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Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I call on Deputy Ruth Coppinger to move the adjournment of the debate because the time has elapsed.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger I move the adjournment of the debate.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan She will be in possession on the next occasion. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Debate adjourned.

Business of Dáil

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I call on the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Regina Doherty, to make a statement to the House.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I propose, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil on its rising today shall adjourn until Monday, 27 June 2016 at 12 noon and the business to be transacted shall be statements on Brexit and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall, if not previously concluded, adjourn at 8 p.m.; the statement of the Taoiseach and of the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour, AAA-PBP, Independents4Change, Rural Technical Group and Social Democrats-Green Party, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case and such Members may share their time; the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and that of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour, AAA-PBP, Independents4Change, Rural Technical Group and Social Democrats-Green Party, or a Member nominated in their stead, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case and such Members may share their time; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case and such Members may share their time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Is that agreed? Agreed.

Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage

Bill entitled an Act to entitle certain employees who are relevant parents in relation to a child to employment leave for the purposes of enabling the employee to provide, or assist in the provision of, care to the child or to provide support to the adopting mother, sole male adopter or mother of the child, as the case may be, or both; to entitle a surviving parent to employment leave on the death of a relevant parent; to extend the protection against unfair dismissals conferred by the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977; to provide for the payment of paternity benefit to certain persons and, for that purpose, to amend the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005; and to provide for related matters.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016: Second Stage

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am delighted to present this Bill to the House today, the purpose of which is to give effect to the decision in budget 2016 to provide for two weeks' paternity leave and an associated social welfare benefit, known as paternity benefit, from 30 September this year. I, like many others, have been a strong advocate for the necessity of paid paternity leave for many years, and accordingly this legislation has been a priority for me since the new partnership Government was established in May.

As a parent, a former Minister for Children and a mother, I know how important it is for fathers to have the opportunity to be involved at the earliest stages of a child's development. It is in a child's best interest to benefit from the care and attention of both parents, where possible, in his or her early years. We have a huge amount of research now about the importance of early intervention and we know that early intervention, investing in a child's early years, leads to better outcomes for both the child and for wider society. When enacted, this legislation will allow new fathers, including fathers of adopted children, to start the combined package of paternity leave and paternity benefit at any time within the first six months following birth. The Bill also provides for same-sex couples on an equal basis with other couples. Regarding the operation of the scheme, the Department of Social Protection will provide a minimum of paid paternity benefit of €230 per week for the two weeks of paternity leave. I believe that the State can and should support families as they deal with all the different pressures they face. This legislation introducing two weeks of paid paternity leave in addition to the existing payment of maternity benefit means that the State now offers a total of 28 weeks of paid support to parents upon the birth of their child. By providing this investment in the child's early years, we are seeking to improve outcomes for children and families. I hope the Government will be in a position to extend this provision further in the years ahead, subject to resources being available.

The genesis of the Bill is a decision by the previous Government to introduce two weeks' paternity leave and the associated social insurance-based benefit payment in budget 2016. In January 2016, the Government approved the general scheme of the paternity leave Bill, priority drafting of the Bill and the insertion of the final text of the Bill as a new part of the proposed family leave Bill, in the event that the family leave Bill was sufficiently progressed as to allow its enactment before the end of the current legislative session in July 2016. On 22 March, however, on foot of a memorandum brought by the then Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, to whom I want to pay tribute for the work that she did on this in the Department of Social Protection, the Government agreed that the matter should be progressed as a stand-alone Bill. During the recent programme for Government negotiations, I was keen to ensure the new Government would reaffirm the commitment to introduce paternity leave and I am glad that the new programme for a partnership Government includes a commitment to introduce two weeks' paternity leave and to significantly increase parental leave. Since the Government was formed in May, it has been a key priority for me to progress the Bill through the House so that the new regime can be in place for September. It has also been a priority for my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar.

Careful attention has been devoted to the drafting of this Bill. At one level, the Bill deals with a simple issue, namely, the creation of two weeks' paternity leave and a paternity benefit. However, there were also quite complex issues regarding the interplay with maternity and adoptive leave that had to be resolved. These relate to rare and tragic situations that we must cater for, including stillbirth, death of a newborn baby or death of one of the parents. Essentially, we take a most humane approach. If the baby is stillborn or dies, of course the entitlement to paternity leave still continues, and if one parent dies, the other parent inherits whatever leave has not been taken. Amendments also had to be made to the Workplace Relations Act 2015 and the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. The drafting of the Bill, therefore, was painstaking, challenging and required in an extremely short space of time in order for the scheme to be operational by September. I want to thank the drafters of the Attorney General's Office who have been so careful, conscientious and assiduous in their approach, even when working under severe pressure. I also want to thank the Department of Social Protection, which worked so effectively with my Department to bring this work to fruition, and of course the officials in my Department. We had a very small window of opportunity to enact the Bill, and I very much appreciate the support of the Opposition and I hope that we can get this Bill through the House so that the payment can be made in September. The assistance of everybody involved is very much appreciated.

Regarding the main provisions of the Bill, section 1 contains the Short Title while section 2 defines the various terms, including, for example, "relevant parent". Obviously, that means the father in most family circumstances. The Bill has also been drafted to provide for same-sex couples. Paternity leave can be taken by one person only, save in the case of adoption, where the Bill allows for circumstances where the father will have taken paternity leave, by ensuring that the adoptive father can subsequently also take paternity leave. Section 3 clarifies that the Minister has a power to make regulations regarding anything said to be prescribed in the Bill. There are some other standard provisions in Part 1.

Part 2 contains the outline of the entitlement of two weeks' paternity leave and what governs the operation of paternity leave. Section 6 is one of the most important provisions in the Bill as it creates the entitlement to two weeks' paternity leave. In section 7, we lay out how the parent must inform the employer of the intention to take paternity leave and the documentation required. It must usually be applied for four weeks in advance. Section 8 provides the detail of how it can be taken in one continuous period of two weeks at any time commencing on the date of the birth, or placement in the case of an adoption, and ending not later than 26 weeks thereafter. This means that a couple can chose to avail of the leave at the time of the birth or at the end of the period of paid maternity leave. Thus, if they chose, they can have 28 weeks' continual paid maternity-paternity leave or any time in between. Section 9 provides for relaxation of the normal notification period in cases where there is an early birth. Section 10 provides for postponement of paternity leave that has been applied for but not taken, in the event of postponement of the day of placement or the date of confinement. The rest of this Part goes into various details regarding postponement, for example, in the event of sickness or hospitalisation. We then had to make the changes to the Maternity Protection Act regarding the definition of "relevant parent" and the Adoptive Leave Acts. Section 15 provides for that transfer of paternity leave to the surviving parent where a father or other relevant parent dies while having an entitlement to paternity leave that has not been used, so obviously we had to deal for these sad and exceptional circumstances.


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