The Dáil will this week debate and vote on a Green Party motion calling for the Government to extend the maternity leave and maternity benefit of mothers of babies born prematurely.
The motion, supported by the Irish Premature Babies charity, would see maternity benefit and leave extended for the mothers of babies born prematurely by the number of weeks prematurely a baby is born. For example, if a child is born at 32 weeks, a mother would be entitled to an extra 8 weeks maternity leave and benefit.
Speaking ahead of the motion, Green Party Deputy Leader Catherine Martin TD called for cross-party support for the motion. She said: “Every year in Ireland approximately 4,500 babies are born prematurely (less than 37 weeks gestation). One in 16 women deliver a preterm baby. At the time of the baby’s arrival, parents’ concerns, worries and anxieties are quite naturally focused on the baby’s safe well-being and progress. Maternity leave and maternity benefit may be one of last things on a mother’s mind but it won’t take long until the mother faces the reality of being treated by the State in a markedly different and unfair way compared to mothers fortunate enough to give birth to full term babies.
“Under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004, a mother is entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave and 16 weeks unpaid leave. Maternity leave comes into effect on the date of the birth of the child. However, babies surviving from the earliest gestations, such as 23 weeks, can spend months in a neonatal unit in hospital under the constant, watchful and nervous eye of their parents.
“Present legislation and policy abjectly ignores these parents and is cruel in its disregard for the huge unforeseen pressure and turmoil families face when caring for a premature baby. In some cases parents from the country are compelled to travel up to 4 hours on a daily commute to Neonatal Intensive Care Units in Dublin. This incurs significant expenses in medical care, accommodation, transport, parking, food and puts severe stress on parents and their other children.
“Our motion is calling on the Government to recognise the hardship faced by the parents of premature babies, and to increase maternity leave and benefits by the number of weeks a child is born prematurely. The current system puts enormous pressure on families of premature babies. We’re trying to help ease that pressure, to support families when they need it most.”