Mothers of premature babies to be given extended maternity leave

Maternity leave is being extended for mothers whose babies are born prematurely.

Mothers of premature babies to be given extended maternity leave

Maternity leave is being extended for mothers whose babies are born prematurely, writes Juno McEnroe.

The Government decision will be announced today and is expected to benefit over 4,500 mothers annually.

The initiative — originally recommended by the Green Party— will see extended benefit paid by the State for the period between the actual birth and when the leave would have commenced.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty will bring the initiative to Cabinet but it takes effect as of October 1, 2017.

Currently, maternity leave is 26 weeks. The additional leave and benefit will be added at the end of the 26-week period.

The national perinatal reporting system defines preterm births as those at less than 37 weeks gestation.

Minister Doherty will include the changes in the Social Welfare Budget Bill.

In April, the Government accepted a proposal from the Green Party and following analysis has decided to proceed with this.

In addition to the current 26 weeks of paid maternity leave, a mother will now be entitled to an additional period of leave and benefit. The extra period will commence at the end of the standard 26 weeks.

Elsewhere, Health Minister Simon Harris will ask Cabinet to approve the drafting of proposals to enable State funding for fertility treatment for couples who could not otherwise afford treatment.

The Assisted Human Reproduction legislation will also in part regulate the sector and address the need for rules covering the welfare of the child, health of women and informed consent as a priority, said government sources.

By the end of the year, the minister expects to have options for State funding for fertility treatment for couples, including IVF. These would likely start in 2019. It is estimated that one in six couples struggle with infertility in Ireland. But Ireland also remains one of the only countries without AHR regulation.

Elsewhere, the Government will rubber stamp changes to Dáil constituencies, as recommended by the Constituency Commission.

The changes for the next general election will see some Dáil voting areas expanded, while others will be reduced. Under changes, the number of seats will increase from 158 to 160 and the election will be contested across 39 areas, including 13 five-seater constituencies.

Meanwhile, a review of the social insurance fund that pays for welfare will also be flagged at Cabinet while diplomatic representation in New Zealand will be enhanced, under proposals to increase Ireland’s presence abroad.

The Cabinet had been expected to discuss the controversy over the previous decision to reopen the Stepaside Garda Station in the constituency of Transport Minister Shane Ross.

However, this discussion is expected to be brief - if it takes place at all - following the publication on the weekend of a Department of Justice-commissioned report examining whether to reopen six stations nationwide. This report looked at population and crime trends in areas, including in Stepaside, but decided the latter should be reopened above 139 closed in the recession.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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