O'Gorman announces extended parents' leave for mothers and fathers

Minister has said significant work is needed to change the mindset around the division of responsibility of caring for children
O'Gorman announces extended parents' leave for mothers and fathers

Parents' leave will be extended to nine weeks, says Roderic O'Gorman, the children's minister.  File picture: Niall Carson

Parents' leave is to be extended to nine weeks for both fathers and mothers, Roderic O'Gorman, the children's minister, has promised.

Mr O'Gorman has said the mindset around the division of responsibility for caring for children must be changed and fathers need to become more involved, especially in the early years.

"There's a societal element to all of this, as well, and that deeper question of who cares for children, and an approach that all of us, and particularly men, need to take that we have an absolute responsibility in terms of caring for children," Mr O'Gorman said. 

"It has to be understood that it is a shared responsibility of parents," he said in an interview with the Irish Examiner.

Mr O'Gorman wants to considerably increase the amount of paid leave for mothers and fathers and is planning to extend parents' leave from the current two weeks to nine weeks.

Parents' leave, introduced in 2019, has been further increased under Budget 2021 to give both mothers and fathers of babies born since November 2019 five weeks away from work. It is currently two weeks of leave.

Parents' leave is paid at a rate of €245 per week by the State. 

Mr O'Gorman is expected to bring the heads of a bill to effect these increases in the next fortnight. 

However, the extra entitlement may not be available until April, as the Department of Social Protection will have to update its IT systems. 

The minister has indicated that parents will be allowed to take this leave from early 2021, after the bill passes, and the payment will then be retrospectively applied.

"Our focus, of extending paid leave, is, at the moment, on parents' leave, which applies to both parents and both parents are treated equally, with the working assumption that we expect both parents to be involved in the care of the child in those early years," Mr O'Gorman said.

While 92% of women take maternity leave, the uptake of paternity leave is worryingly low, with 50% of fathers not availing of the paid two weeks away from work.

The level of uptake varies dramatically depending on the sector and the size of the company.

Mr O'Gorman said: "Where paid benefits are provided, it's disappointing to see that they aren't being taken up."

He said maternity leave was created first and paternity leave was "added in quite late", so is not as established.

He added: "I like the concept of parents' leave, where it is pure equality. 

"It's the same number of weeks per parent, same rate of pay per parent; it creates this idea that it's available to both and the equality is based on a societal expectation that all parents are involved in caring for their children."

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