Dad's World with Jonathan deBurca Butler

From September 1, fathers are eligible for paternity benefit when they take their statutory two weeks of paternity leave.

And so it has arrived. A year (or maybe it was nine months) after it was first mooted by then Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, paternity leave is finally here.

Social Protection Minister, Leo Varadkar, announced the launch recently of an awareness campaign for a “ground-breaking measure, which provides a guaranteed income of €230 a week for two weeks”.

Varadkar looked a little awkward as he made his announcement at Holles Street hospital where he was joined by what looked like a female doctor, a baffled and knackered looking new mother and an even more shell-shocked new father.

As the two women held the new arrivals expertly across their laps, the shell-shocked father held his little bundle of joy like a lamb that was about to leap out of his arms in hot pursuit of some imagined butterfly. The picture spoke a thousand words.

Had the minister been quick he might have made his announcement, nodded at the poor lad to his right and said something along the lines of: “and if you have a look at the way your man is holding the baby you can see why I’m making the announcement”.

When he was offered...cough, cough…(thrown) the post of Social Protection, many in the media called it a sort of demotion; a little slap on the wrist for having the temerity to... eh... speak his mind every now and then. 

But it’s rare that Leo doesn’t make the best of things and that afternoon he was ready to go with a short movie explaining the ins and outs of how it will all work.

So, here it is. From September 1, fathers are eligible for paternity benefit when they take their statutory two weeks of paternity leave.

They will have to give their employer at least four weeks notice and crucially the leave can be taken at any time within the first 26 weeks of the child’s life.

The scheme is available to both employees and the self-employed.

When the announcement was made, it sent twitter into something of a frenzy.

And why not? OK, so it’s not Sweden with its whopping 90 days of paid paternity leave or Norway with its mandatory 14 weeks but it’s a start and from here it has to be hoped that the only way is up. Alas, for your Dad’s World scribe there is no backdating and therefore no benefit (unless I go again, which seems unlikely).

But even though it won’t affect my pocket or give me back four weeks with my two boys, it still means quite a bit to me as a father. 

And that’s mainly because Ireland now has a piece of legislation which acknowledges fathers and their role in society.

Arguably, this piece of legislation is as important as the gay marriage referendum, in that it finally accepts a reality of modern society: Dads want to be with their children too.

It is also an acknowledgment of women and new mothers, who are often simply expected to handle the first few weeks of childcare on their own, with little help from partners or spouses.

As a result, new families were embarking on their new lives together in a harum scarum fashion and would often take weeks or months to catch up with themselves. Many never do.

This new measure, while not a panacea, will at least give new families, and fathers, the chance to take stock of the single biggest change they will probably experience in their lives.

How many fathers actually take the government up on their offer remains to be seen. 

Data from other countries suggests that the culture shift takes time.

It is now over to men to have the courage to take the two weeks.

I wish I’d had the chance.


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