Ireland will not meet the initial 2012 deadline to introduce an EU law extending unpaid parental leave, but will avail of an optional one-year extension.

All member states have agreed a European Council directive extending the period of unpaid parental leave for parents of children under eight years of age from three months to four months.

The new law is due to be enacted by March 2012 but has a provision allowing Member States an extra year if required.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the Government's heavy legislative agenda meant the parental leave directive could not be transposed until March 2013.

The spokesperson said there was no question of not meeting the March 2013 deadline.

So far, four of the EU's 27 member states have notified the European Commission of their national laws to introduce the parental leave directive.

The directive entitles fathers and mothers to a total of four months unpaid leave until their child is eight years of age.

Each parent is entitled to four months and it can be taken in one block or broken up across the eight years, subject to agreement with the employer.

In an effort to encourage more fathers to take the leave, one of the four months is non-transferrable.

The directive was agreed in 2009, and came into force in March 2010.