Senator White’s speech on Paternity Leave Bill, 2013

The purpose of the Parental Leave Bill 2013 is to provide for both maternity and paternity leave for parents of newborn children. It allows fathers the opportunity to share the maternity leave allocation of 26 weeks from the workplace if the mother so wishes. This innovative legislation proposes that the current maternity leave scheme be amended to enable a women to transfer a proportion of her maternity leave and benefits to the father of the child. Fianna Fáil supports the Bill, which provides for maternity and paternity leave for parents of a newborn child.

This is part of an overall Fianna Fáil strategy aimed at creating jobs and stimulating growth in the economy by encouraging women entrepreneurs to develop their businesses. It seeks to amend Part II of the Maternity Protection Act 1994 to provide an entitlement to maternity or paternity leave after the birth of an employee’s child. The Bill also has the added impact of enabling fathers to have a more hands-on opportunity in the rearing of their children, including newborn babies, while underpinning the concept of a shared responsibility for the care of children.

The greatest challenge facing the country is to create employment to offer hope and a potential living to the 300,000 unemployed and the young people in our schools and colleges. The only way we can create jobs is to encourage new enterprise. The responsibility for raising young children rests almost entirely with women. The biggest untapped source of enterprise is 50% of the population, women, who face multiple barriers in becoming entrepreneurs and developing business.

My contribution to easing the barriers is to allow fathers to share the responsibility of maternity leave. This flexibility in the maternal leave scheme would allow women entrepreneurs to devote more time to their enterprises, develop their businesses and create jobs. International studies show that women entrepreneurs are lagging significantly behind their male counterparts and Ireland reflects this international trend with women early-stage entrepreneurs in Ireland outnumbered, with two and a half times more men in top business positions than women.

The Bill is one of a series of innovative initiatives contained in the forthcoming Fianna Fáil policy paper I have produced and which will be launched next week. It is about promoting women entrepreneurs. It offers fresh thinking in employment solutions. I have experience having started up Lir Chocolates with Connie Doody in 1986 and the company now employs 150 people. I know from experience what are the difficulties. I never thought that women were discriminated against because I never felt discriminated against. From my research and based on all the academic studies, Irish women are not as self-confident as Irish men about their ability to start up, run and grow a business. One of my key recommendations is to establish a national office for women entrepreneurs within Enterprise Ireland – we would not need to set up a new organisation. We should encourage women to work in teams rather than operating solo. That is why Connie Doody and I were able to create a business. We worked 24 hours a day and seven days a week for 16 years, but it was a team effort. One hears very little of State bodies encouraging people to start up as teams. My paper contains approximately 14 initiatives, one of which is encouraging teams.

When we started Lir Chocolates the philosophy and policy was a step-by-step approach, involving learning everything about one’s local domestic market first, which we did. We then moved to the North and then further. When Tesco took over Quinnsworth my world fell apart. However, it gave us an opportunity and we took it. We went straight into 700 stores in the UK.

I thank Senator Quinn for his support. I will tell a little anecdote. We could not afford to have outer cases for our boxes of chocolate in the beginning. So every week I used to go to Superquinn in Ballinteer where we live and the ladies in the deli used to keep the Castlemahon chicken outer boxes. I used to collect ten or 12 of those and deliver our boxes of chocolates to the shops with which we were doing business. I pay thanks to both Senator Quinn and Tesco. I also thank Mr. Tom Nolan.

Half the population are women.

More than half. Nobody is thinking about this. The country is not being competitive if we do not use the brains of half the population – the women – and do not help them to start up businesses. We are losing out on their brains and skills. There are many other issues and I do not want to hog the time. Our party leader, Deputy Martin, asked me to prepare a policy paper on women entrepreneurs. We will launch it towards the end of next week and we will deal with it here in the Seanad because I believe we will be here the following week. As a businessperson I had to innovate relentlessly, day-in and day-out, to keep the business going and to grow it.

I set up Lir Chocolates to create employment – that was my mission. I saw how people changed physically and emotionally when they got a job. When I got to a certain stage in the business I got an opportunity to stand for election to public office with Fianna Fáil and took it. I thank the Minister of State for everything and wish her continued success.

Senator Mary White

Fianna Fáll spokeperson on Jobs Enterprise and Innovation.

An Advocate for a new Approach to Childcare, Ageing & Ageism and sucide Prevention

Tel: +353 1 618 3820
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