143. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when he plans to increase parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks; his further plans to increase the age of the qualifying child from 8 to 12 years of age with this increase in entitlement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8044/18]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Partnership Government includes a commitment to increase paid parental leave during the first year of a child’s life, as research shows that parental care is of particular importance in the first year of life. To further this commitment, the Government has established an interdepartmental working group to develop proposals to give effect to the Programme commitments. The key objectives of this group are to:
- Develop options as to the duration of the leave, the age of the eligible child, and the level of payment to be offered;
- Determine the usefulness of adopting a phased approach;
- Estimate the likely costs arising; and
- Align any proposals as much as possible with a European Commission Proposal for a Directive on work-life balance for parents and carers.
The group is currently working on a policy approach and I expect it to report with its proposals at the end of April.
The move to introduce a paid parental leave entitlement is also in keeping with the policy approach put forward by the European Commission's proposal for a work-life balance directive, which is currently under discussion at working group level under the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU.
The specific objectives of the Directive are:
- To improve access to work-life balance arrangements and;
- To increase take-up of family-related leaves and flexible working arrangements by men.
The Directive’s key proposal is that parental leave should be made available to parents on a paid basis. This approach recognises that the provision of paid parental leave will be more effective and more appropriate in terms of encouraging fathers to share the caring role for their children. All the evidence shows that in parenting, what is best for children is the involvement of their fathers, in addition to their mothers, in their practical care and day to day lives.
Given that discussions are on-going at EU level and the interdepartmental working group is not due to present its proposals until later this year, the Deputy will appreciate that it would be premature at this point to signify a precise timeframe for introducing any significant changes.
The Deputy will also be aware that Deputies Roisin Shortall and Catherine Murphy have proposed a Private Members Bill, entitled Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017, which provides for the extension of the existing entitlement to parental leave from 18 weeks leave to 26 weeks leave. The Government decided not to oppose this Bill at Second Stage, which took place on 8 February 2018.
I advised the House that I was available to discuss the proposal contained in the Bill with the sponsoring deputies. The Bill has been referred to the Select Committee on Justice and Equality and I have strongly suggested that the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality carry out a comprehensive legislative scrutiny on the Bill and on related issues in order to inform the debate and to allow interested stakeholders, groups and individuals to make submissions and to input to the legislative process. I look forward to engaging in future discussions on the Bill in the context of the work that is ongoing in relation to expanding paid support to parents. I have no current plans to increase the age of the qualifying child for parental leave from eight to 12 years of age, but this is an issue that can be explored within the context of the broader discussions on parental leave, and also in terms of the Family Leave Bill, which will consolidate and update family leave legislation.