Women with newborn babies will be able to return to work earlier by sharing part of their statutory maternity leave with the father of the child, under a proposed new law.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White, who proposed the bill, said it would encourage more women to become entrepreneurs and to engage in business by returning to work sooner.

She said 90% of the care provided for newborn children was done by mothers and that this bill would also permit men to take a greater share in this activity.

The Government has said that it will not oppose the general thrust of the bill but the detailed contents will be subject to discussion in the autumn.

Adoption leave would be addressed under the bill at a later stage, she said.

Senator White said she would like to see the bill enacted into law by this time next year.