Government’s proposal to extend paid leave for parents of babies born during the pandemic

The Government’s proposal to extend paid leave for parents of babies born during the pandemic has been criticised as “utterly bizarre” and “cynical” by the opposition.

Yesterday, the Cabinet approved a proposal to increase parents’ leave by three weeks, which will be considered as part of Budget 2021 and implemented sometime thereafter. 

It follows a campaign backed by a number of political parties and the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) to increase maternity leave by three months for mothers who had a child during the lockdown. 

Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore said yesterday’s announcement was  “a really cynical attempt” to “take the steam out of the maternity campaign”.

She said the announcement by Government undercuts what was previously committed to, both in the Programme for Government and the “First 5” childcare policy announced in 2018. 

“The Government has already committed to seven weeks’ paid parental leave and yesterday’s announcement brought it to five weeks, so they are already undercutting what was previously agreed,” she said.

Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane said the proposals are “utterly bizarre” as they do not deal with the issues that are of concern to women who were on maternity leave during the pandemic period. 

“Mothers need support now and to offer to examine, as part of Budget 2021, the possibility of an additional three weeks next year, is totally irrelevant in relation to this issue.” 

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil this afternoon, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government’s decision on parents leave was a “substantive and significant one”. 

He said this would advance the extension of parents’ leave and benefit to five weeks for all parents of children born after 1 November 2019.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the extension to parental leave as “too little and too late”.  

Deputy McDonald said new mothers need action now and they are not in a position to wait until next year for relief. 

She appealed to the Taoiseach to support the Sinn Féin private members motion and “do the right thing” and give 12 extra weeks to these women. 

The Dáil will hear a motion tonight from Sinn Féin that calls for a three-month extension for paid maternity leave.

Over 70 TDs had supported a similar motion in May, including several Green Party TDs.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sarah McInerney programme, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said in light of the circumstances of the past number of months the “additional time of 12 weeks is an appropriate and necessary breathing space for parents to bond with their children and for the family to get back into some routine”.

She said that the Taoiseach said it would cost €78 million to fund, which she said was a considerable sum of money, but which “pales into insignificance when you consider the huge interventions that necessarily have had to be made to sustain and support the economy, workers and business”.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith has said the proposal to extend unpaid parental leave by three weeks from the Green Party’s Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman was “an insult to women who have been waiting for Government action for months now”.

Ms Smith added: “I am appealing to Green Party TDs who supported an earlier motion calling for a three-month extension to maternity leave for these mothers to support tonight’s Dáil motion; the proposal for three weeks extra parental leave does not address the problem.

“It’s completely dependent on an employer agreeing to the leave and its unpaid – this is not what these women need.

This piece by Mary Regan Political Reporter

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