Parental leave will be extended by three weeks to 'pandemic parents', in hopes it will offset the impact of having a child during the harshest lockdown measures.
The move was put forward by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman on Monday evening, who proposed the additional leave in response to a Sinn Féin private members’ Bill on maternity leave.
O'Gorman said he recognised the difficulties experienced by 'pandemic parents' – those who were attending to newborns during the COVID-19 pandemic – and suggested that extra time at home may help to counterbalance the disruption of lockdown.
“This is a measure to recognise to some extent the particular challenges that mothers and parents have faced during the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.
“We are acknowledging that maternity leave was a difficult period for parents and others in the context of the COVID crisis, and the supports that were traditionally available, both official and the ability to engage with grandparents and friends, just wasn’t doable during that time.”
The proposal – which applies to parents of children born after 1 November 2019 – will be considered part of the Budget 2021 process, coming into force thereafter.
The leave would be paid at the rate of €245 a week for the additional three weeks.
The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has come forward and said the proposal falls far short of needs of mothers who were on maternity leave during lockdown.
"In many cases, women gave birth without a partner or loved one present, and faced into motherhood without family or professional support," said Director Orla O'Connor.
"They also could not access the many support groups that provide critical support when becoming a new mum.
“This is why extending maternity benefit was so critical for new mothers, and this measure does not go far enough to meet the needs that new mothers have raised with NWCI since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Parental leave entitles new parents to take unpaid leave from work to spend time looking after their children. Currently, both parents can take up to 22 weeks parental leave and from 1 September 2020, this will increase to 26 weeks.