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Parental Leave: 'Fathers have moved on from sitting in the pub next door to the hospital - Ireland has not'

A lot of what governs Ireland is stuck in the 1960s and hasn’t moved on at all. Parental Leave is one such thing, writes Derek Power.

Derek Power Father of two

IRELAND IS A great country to live and bring up a family in, but sadly a lot of what governs Ireland is stuck in the 1960s and hasn’t moved on at all.

Parental leave is one such thing. For a long time dads were entitled to very little in terms of parental leave when their little bundles of joy arrived. You got three days, unpaid, and that was it.

Which is fantastic, right? Because who wants to spend more than three days at home with their kid?

Some people, like myself, save holidays through the nine months of their partner’s pregnancy as best they can and book time off because they actually want to be around and help with the newborn.

Because some people, like myself, are not still in that 1960s mindset of what a father is to their significant other after a child is born.

We aren’t all sitting in the pub next door to the hospital sipping brandy and smoking cigars while slapping ourselves on the back for a job well done. We’re in the delivery room, hand holding, motivating, encouraging, calming the mother as she has a slight panic over a machine in the corner that went beep for the first time in 17 hours (it was low on battery). Fathers have moved on, Ireland has not.

When we were expecting our first child I just happened to get a promotion in work. Part of my new deal was that I told my boss I wanted a once-off additional five days’ annual leave.

I had plans to tag them on to any leave I had around the arrival of what turned out to be our little girl. He was surprised at the ballsy ask, but agreed because he knew what I was going to be using them for.

When our little boy came along two-and-a-half years later I was in a new job and I was lucky. The three days unpaid thing had been changed to two weeks paid by the government and your employer could voluntarily decide to top up the difference in salary. My employer is one who strives to build a good culture and part of their policy around parental leave for dads is you get the top-up.

Money worries

Recent statistics suggest that only 40% of working dads avail of parental leave. The reason being that as the main breadwinner, or the one with the bigger salary, the other 60% cannot afford to take parental leave.

This isn’t to say they aren’t taking their own holidays, time off that their employer legally has to pay them the full rate for, it is just saying that they aren’t taking the two weeks of parental leave the government allows for.

Two weeks, and each week the dad would receive €245. Money that their employer does not have to top up, by law, if they don’t want to.

Some may top up to a percentage of the difference, others may go the whole amount, some may just smile and say enjoy the time off. The reality is there is 60% of the workforce out there that may not work in a company, like I currently do, which adds to the father’s weekly wage during paternity leave.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty’s solution to this? Extend the leave by an additional two weeks. Now you get four measly weeks off as a new or returning dad at €245 a week. The additional weeks will, in Doherty’s own words, “help incentivise fathers to take more time off work to care for their children”.

It isn’t the time that’s the problem. It is the stark reality that living in Ireland is not cheap.

When she announced the new parental leave rules, Doherty took a shot at dads the land over by saying they needed to stop using excuses and start stepping up to the plate.

Once again: parenthood has moved on from the 1960s, dads are not all useless slobs these days and actually are raising children along with their partners.

The reality is if mum isn’t getting maternity pay from her employer then her salary has also been cut to €245 a week. Then dad has to go back to work pretty quickly to continue to pay for the little luxuries in life like food in fridge, power and heating, a roof over the family’s head. Ireland sucks in terms of pay roles, let’s be honest.

In most cases it will be the male who is the bigger earner so that leaves no choice but for parental leave to fall to the mum. The government should look at tackling the joke of a situation before telling me I am not stepping up to the plate.

I know a dad, great guy, who was the lower earner in his relationship. He quit his job so his wife could go back to work and he would be at home with the kids. If the same situation had been true for myself I’d have done it in a heartbeat. It killed me both times going back to work after two months of my kids’ arrival into the world.

Sitting at a desk looking forward to the phone beeping with a photo or video of them from their mum. I wanted to be at home with them, not watching them through a screen.

This isn’t the first time Doherty has made such grand and sweeping statements, but as an elected official she needs to be held accountable for her words.

It is time that those in government get out of the tower and actually understand what is going on. Why might only 40% of fathers take parental leave? Well, because if they did they would be living hand to mouth.

Considering how much tax I pay, and get very little back for such a huge chunk of change, I feel the government could give more back to working parents than they currently do.

Derek Power is a working dad with two children aged three and one. He is one half of the parenting podcast Parenting Pobal

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Derek Power  / Father of two

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