Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said it is in a child's best interest to benefit from the care of both parents.

She made the comments on the opening of Dáil debate on the Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016.

The legislation is being introduced to allow fathers take two weeks' paid paternal leave.

She said that when enacted this bill will allow parents to start the new combined package of maternity benefit within six months.

She said it will involve a payment of €230 for two weeks' paternity leave and she pointed out that among the provisions in the bill is that if a baby is stillborn or dies, the father is still entitled to the paternity leave.

She said that she wants the scheme to be operational by September and she welcomed the support of the Opposition on the bill in securing its passage through the House. 

After detailing the provisions of the bill, the Tánaiste said she hoped there could be an increase in the level of parental leave in the future.

"Evidence shows that fathers want to spend time caring for and bonding with their children and it is clear that children benefit so much from parental care in the first year of their life.

"However, as things stand, in order to take time off in the first year or at the time of the birth, fathers have to use other existing leave arrangements.

"I would say that parents want choice and flexibility.

"This bill gives parents the flexibility to choose when they take the time off to care for their young child."

She said "a father can commence paternity leave right up to the end of the 26th week after the child's birth and in the case of adoption the father can take leave within 26 weeks of the day of placement."

She said family-related leave is important in creating a balance between family and working life.

"The more times fathers spend with their babies the better," the minister said.

Fianna Fáil welcomed the bill with Fiona O'Loughlin said the first year of a child's life is a time for the baby to develop attachments to its mother and father and expanding parental leave will help this.

Ms O'Loughlin said Ireland has "been behind" in relation parental leave and it has a long way to go.

Pointing to Norway, she said fathers there receive 10-weeks' parental leave.

Sinn Féin also welcomed the bill as a positive step, but said that it was a long time coming. 

The party's Deputy Denise Mitchell said she hoped it started a greater change within the Government about helping parents. 

Labour Party's Brendan Ryan told the Dáil that it is long past the time to practically endorse the principle of parental equality. 

He said that after the birth of a child most fathers have to return to work or else take annual leave or come to some arrangement with their employers. He said that the bill is a step towards enhancing parental equality. 

The deputy leader of the Green Party, Catherine Martin, pointed out that it is 40 years ago since Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce paid parental leave and we are only bringing it in now. 

She said that we need to continue to expand statutory leave entitlements to parents.