herald

Saturday 21 September 2019

'Dads must take paternity leave or lose new benefit,' minister warns

‘We need to break stereotypical roles’, says Regina Doherty
‘We need to break stereotypical roles’, says Regina Doherty

New fathers should stop making excuses and take paternity leave, says the Government.

In proposals published today up to parents 60,000 will be eligible from next autumn for two weeks' paid time off.

However, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty warned that Ireland needs "a proper conversation about the value of staying at home".

Figures show that about 60pc of men do not take the existing handouts.

Despite this she insisted the extra leave will be non-transferable - so each parent must "use it or lose it".

The State will pay €245 a week, which may be voluntarily topped up by private companies if their employee is on a higher salary.

The plan is to increase paternal leave incrementally to seven weeks over the next two budgets. It comes on top of existing maternity and paternity leave benefits.

Debate

She said the decision to make the payments non-transferable was crucial to stimulating a debate about the roles of fathers.

"Traditionally caring in the home has been viewed as a female responsibility," but that should no longer be the case.

"There's a construct here about a narrative that the value of money associated with the scheme isn't enough for men to take off work.

"It doesn't seem to have stopped women from taking maternity leave from time immemorial, because it's exactly the same amount of money," the minister added.

Some people argued that the low uptake was because women earned less than men - but "lots of women who earn a hell of a lot more do" go on maternity.

Last year, Fianna Fail put forward legislation that would allow new parents to share leave in a way that suits their family circumstances.

However, Ms Doherty said the use it or lose it basis of paternal leave "will help incentivise fathers to take more time off work to care for their children than has been the case up to now".

"I think we need to break down those stereotypical roles, and if more fellas do it, whether it is parental leave or paternity leave, I think that will start to remove the taboo of the traditional role of caring for babies," the minister said.

Payments

The outline of the Bill says parents must take time off within 12 months of a birth or adoption.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is taking steps to ensure necessary legislation is in place so the scheme is up and running in November.

Some ministers privately raised concerns at last week's cabinet meeting about the impact that the landmark legislation could have on businesses and schools.

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