Dáil Éireann - Volume 531 - 27 February, 2001
Written Answers. - Maternity Protection Legislation.
Mr. Broughan Mr. Broughan
68. Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he has any plans to give retrospective benefit to qualified people who took leave before improvements were initiated in regard to the improved regulations for maternity benefit and adoptive benefit  and to the introduction of the carer's benefit. [5738/01]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Entitlement to maternity and adoptive benefit is contingent, in the first instance, on the woman qualifying for maternity or adoptive leave under the Maternity Protection Act, 1994 or the Adoptive Leave Act, 1995, as appropriate. To introduce the extended leave it was necessary for the Minister of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to introduce regulations to amend the Maternity Protection Act, 1994 and the Adoptive Leave Act, 1995. These regulations, which required a positive motion of approval to be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, were introduced immediately after the Christmas recess. They were passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas on 8 February 2001 and immediately brought into force.
Since the extensions of the maternity and adoptive leave provided for in the budget impose additional obligations on employers, it was necessary to give adequate advance notice and therefore, retrospective application of the provisions of these regulations was not possible. In addition, as both Acts require the woman to give her employer at least four weeks notice of her intention to take leave, the extended duration of maternity and adoptive leave can only apply to women who can give their employers the required four weeks notice following the commencement of the necessary regulations. Consequently, the new arrangements apply to anyone who goes on maternity or adoptive leave on or after 8 March 2001.
In the circumstances, it is not possible to provide for retrospective entitlement to the extended duration of maternity and adoptive leave, nor is it possible to provide for retrospective entitlement to maternity and adoptive benefits.
The carer's benefit scheme which I introduced last October provides financial support for 15 months to a person who gives up employment to care full-time. As it is based on a person's PRSI contributions there is no means test. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt, is introducing carer's leave legislation to protect the employment rights of the carer during that 15 month period. To qualify for carer's benefit, all of the qualifying conditions must be satisfied on or after 26 October 2000. This also applies to the condition that the applicant must have been in remunerative employment for the previous three month period on a full-time basis. As is the case in all new schemes, certain people may have qualified if the scheme had been introduced at an earlier date. It is difficult to decide on past entitlements in these type of cases.
However, my Department has introduced some flexibility to facilitate those employees who had already left the workplace before the commencement date. In this regard, employees who were  on annual leave, maternity leave, adoptive leave, parental leave or term-time leave immediately prior to their application will be eligible for carer's benefit and the three month remunerative employment period to be assessed will be the period prior to that leave. In addition, carers who took special or compassionate leave or a career break prior to the introduction of the carer's benefit scheme, for the purpose of caring, and with the agreement of their employer, may apply for carer's benefit. Certification of the caring situation will be required from the carer's employer and the care recipient's doctor. In such cases, a maximum period of six months prior to the introduction of carer's benefit application will be disregarded and the three months prior to that six-month period will be assessed for the purposes of carer's benefit.
Dáil Éireann 531 Written Answers. Maternity Protection Legislation.