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Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report and Final Stages [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 2

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  9 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton]  I have listened to what colleagues have had to say. We will definitely not be pressing the amendment based on what they said. It is a modest proposal in its own right. I have reservations and may come back to the Seanad with further information when we have a bit more time to consider this. I do not want this to fall on a constitutional matter. We have to bear in mind that already we have 26 weeks' paid maternity leave, a possibility of 16 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, 18 weeks of parental leave, and two weeks of paid paternity leave. This amounts to 62 weeks already. This provision adds another eight weeks, or two months, of unpaid leave.

The Government was bringing forward its own proposals for paid leave on an incremental basis. Obviously, we have to be cognisant of the cost of this over time and of the EU directive. I have listened to what colleagues have said here tonight and on Committee Stage. My view is that the majority of colleagues want this to go ahead as proposed. I will not be standing in its way at this stage. We will have to re-examine this matter, perhaps when we get to the Seanad, and discuss it further. Reducing the period from four years to two might be a way out.

On the issue of the previous increase in 2013, from 14 to 18 weeks, that was a requirement of the EU parental leave directive of 2010. There was a presumption of constitutionality in that regard at the time.

I will not be pressing this amendment at this time. I have listened to what colleagues have said. We all want to support families and parents. I am still a parent but having been a parent of small children quite a while ago, I understand the pressures, strains, tensions and costs associated with parenting and how they have increased over the years. The first year a child's life is so important. It is important that the child be with his or her parents.

Deputy Shortall or Deputy Catherine Murphy said earlier that we must examine issues such as breast-feeding in the workplace and so forth. These are all important issues that we have to discuss if we are to achieve equality, including gender equality. That is my position. I listen quite a lot to colleagues both in the Seanad and here and I believe we have to have a debate on these issues. It is important to debate this issue.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I thank the Minister of State for his statement on this amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Amendments Nos. 4 to 7 arise out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, are related. Amendment No. 4 is consequential on amendment No. 5, and amendment No. 5 is consequential on amendment No. 6. Amendment No. 7 is a logical alternative to No. 6. Amendments Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, will be discussed together.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, line 16, to delete "8 years"," and substitute "8 years".".

The purpose of amendments Nos. 4 and 5 is to modify the Bill's approach to those parents who have already used their full entitlement to parental leave and those parents who were unable to use their full entitlement to parental leave previously. The Government policy is that both sets of parents should benefit from additional parental leave being introduced and, in addition, those parents with unused parental leave should also be able to use any portion of their unused leave. The substantive elements of the changes to the Bill are contained in amendment No. 6, which I will now outline to the House.

  Currently, under the Parental Leave Act 1998, the single largest period of parental leave a parent may take is 18 weeks. We were going to increase the entitlement on a phased basis but obviously we have now changed that approach. These particular amendments are consequential on the ones that went before. We were going to propose blocks over the number of years. The amendments do not arise now so I do not believe we will be spending too much time on them. That is all I want to say on the amendments.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I would welcome some clarification on what the Minister of State intends doing with his amendments. He is talking about them being consequential on the proposed section 3. I wish to know how they stand before I contribute.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Is the Minister of State pressing the amendments?

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton No.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Is that agreed?

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall None of them?

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I move amendment No. 7:

  In page 4, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 7 of Principal Act

3. Section 7 of the Principal Act is amended—
(a) in subsection (1) by substituting "26 weeks" for "18 weeks" in each place where it occurs, and

(b) in paragraph (a) of subsection (2)—
(i) by substituting "26 weeks" for "18 weeks" in each place where it occurs, and

(ii) in subparagraph (ii) by substituting "26 times" for "18 times".".

This is just to bring things into line with the new arrangements for increasing the period from 18 to 26 weeks where there are other references.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Could the Minister of State respond to that?

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Since we have made changes earlier, there has been a knock-on effect. I stated we were considering extending parental leave on a phased basis. I still have some concerns about constitutionality. I believe the Deputy's amendments are okay.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Is that agreed? Does Deputy Shortall wish to respond?

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Is that amendment No. 7?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Yes.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate the support. It is a technical amendment given that the Bill is about extending the entitlement from 18 weeks to 26 weeks. It is just to bring other sections in line with that.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach Just to be absolutely sure, is that agreed?

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Agreed.

  Amendment agreed to.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 8:

8. In page 4, to delete line 16 and substitute the following:

"(3) This Act shall come into operation on 1 January 2019.".

This is a straightforward amendment. We must bear in mind the changes proposed that would not be accepted here and that I did not press.

  This is a straightforward amendment that seeks to delete section 3(3) of the Bill and replace it with the Government's text for subsection (3). It states the Act shall come into operation on 1 January 2019, for the following reasons. In the first instance, there is a serious technical issue with section 3 in that an Act cannot come into operation after its passing as proposed in the Bill as the Act needs to be signed by the President to be enacted and to have legal force. As Deputies will be aware, Article 13.3.1° of Bunreacht na hÉireann states every Bill passed or deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas shall require the signature of the President before its enactment into law. Section 3(3) of the Bill provides that the Act comes into operation three months after its passing, not after its enactment. In short, an Act can come into operation only after enactment, not after its passing by the Houses of the Oireachtas, as proposed in the Bill. To allow section 3(3) of the Bill to stand would essentially mean the Bill would bypass the President and his functions under the aforementioned article of the Constitution. I am moving the amendment as it is the Government's intention that the Act will commence on 1 January 2019. It is a technical issue, a constitutional issue, that we must be careful about.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I accept what the Minister of State is saying. It is a technical issue. Perhaps we could address that in the Seanad by changing the term "enactment" to "passing". I would be quite happy to do that in the Seanad if the Minister of State agrees to it. The Bill, as it stands, proposes that the Act will come into force within three months. That is a reasonable period for people to adjust. I repeat the point that it is not that people will suddenly start taking all this leave. It is just that it would start after three months, and then people would spread out that leave over a number of years. If the Minister of State agrees with me in principle, we could certainly change the reference in the Seanad.

Deputy David Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton The actual text is before us now. We should probably do it now rather than in the Seanad. I do not see why we need to wait. If the Deputy is proposing that we wait for the Seanad, we can do that.


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