1,039 fathers in Limerick have taken paternity leave since it came into operation just over a year ago, according to Munster Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune.
Ms Clune, who is a member of the EU Employment committee, has welcomed figures released to her by the Department of Social Protection which show that Paternity leave take up amongst Irish fathers is steadily increasing.
The figures show that 34 per cent of Irish fathers took paternity leave in the first three months of 2017 and 27,307 have availed of leave since the scheme came into operation in September 2016.
“It’s not a bad start. Take up is as low as four per cent in France where a campaign to make paternity leave compulsory has kicked off. In Germany, men and women have equal rights to parental leave of 12 to 14 months on 65 per cent of the individual parent’s salary, she explained.
“Ireland has one of the highest birth rates in Europe. Almost 64,000 babies were born here in 2016. The national birth rate in the first quarter of 2017 was 16,487 and the number of fathers who claimed paternity leave for the same period was 5,711.
“We have to take a wider societal view and not think of rearing children as something best done in one’s spare time, preferably by women. Shared responsibility for new- born babies is the key to equality in the labour market – but the responsibility will always fall on women unless men play an active role in child rearing and actually take the paternity leave.
“Depending on the ongoing take up, we should look at more incentives to encourage fathers to take paternity leave. I would be extremely reluctant to go down the road of making paternity leave mandatory, and propose that we use other incentives like “use it or lose it” to further increase the take up of paternity leave.
Ms Clune said she was conscious that employers, particularly in small businesses, would fear the cost of temporarily losing men as well as women to these family friendly policies, but she urged them to change how they view family time off.
“Employees being absent is a cost to business, especially a small one, but I think we’re going to have to accept that this is a cost of doing business just like holiday pay and sickness benefit”.