The new paternity leave benefit will not be backdated for a father whose baby is born prematurely.
The new benefit, which equates to two weeks’ leave paid at a rate of €230 per week, is available for any child born or adopted on or after September 1.
However, if your child has a due date on or after September 1, and is born before this day, you are not eligible for the benefit.
This is despite the fact that one in 16 babies born in Ireland are pre-term, meaning they are born before 37 weeks.
“Every scheme must have a start date and as such only births/placements which occur on or after September 1, will be eligible for Paternity Leave/Benefit.
“Paternity leave and benefit cannot be taken or paid retrospectively prior to September,” Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar told the Irish Examiner.
According to the latest perinatal statistics, which were published in June but which relate to 2014, there were 67,610 births in that year. Of those births, 7% occurred before 37 weeks. This means that approximately 4,700 babies were born prematurely in Ireland in 2014.
Mr Varadkar explained that the lack of flexibility around the start date to take premature births into consideration was a budgetary issue. “September 1 is the earliest date that could be chosen. It is in accordance with the Budget 2016 announcement,” he said.
“My department has been allocated €5m for Paternity Benefit from September until the end of the year.
“Picking a date prior to September would require additional money, which has not been allocated to the Department of Social Protection’s Revised Estimates for 2016.
“In light of previous consultation, the preparations employers have made and continue to make, and the limited budget allocation for Paternity Benefit in 2016, it would therefore not be reasonable or possible to commence Paternity Leave and Benefit before the September start date,” he added.
A spokesperson for Early Childhood Ireland (ECI)
urged the minister to prioritise a one-year term of paid parental leave in the upcoming budget.
“While the minister for social protection has ruled out an earlier introduction, we believe he must urgently focus his attention on the upcoming budget for 2017 and prioritise working towards the goal of 12 months paid parental leave for the child’s critical first year.
“This would mean that, after maternity leave, parents would share leave so that children can benefit from having one parent (or guardian) present for an entire year, giving them the best start in life.”
Under the Programme for Partnership Government, there is a commitment to “significantly increase parental leave in the first year of a child’s life” and “prioritise paid parental leave in the first year”.
Until the introduction of this paternity benefit, Ireland was one of only nine European countries without any paid paternity leave.
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