A new law which will allow parents to share their entitlement to a mother's 26-weeks of paid maternity leave between them has been proposed today.

Fianna Fáil TDs Fiona O'Loughlin and Lisa Chambers tabled the first stage of a bill that promotes "greater equality" and "allows parents to share child rearing responsibilities."

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Ms O'Loughlin pointed out that currently in Ireland mothers are entitled to 26-weeks of paid maternity leave, and a further 16-weeks without pay.  

She added: "Fathers are entitled to just two weeks. They can only take up some of the mother's entitlement if she dies. The Bill that I move today will allow both parents of a child to share this 26-week period of paid maternity leave between them."

The proposed new legislation from the Kildare South TD also applies to adoptive parents and same-sex parents. 

She said that her bill will not create any additional cost to the Exchequer as "it simply allows parents to share paid maternity leave that is already in existence and will not affect the two shared weeks of maternity leave that already exist."

If enacted into law, the proposal will be offer significant benefits to families, Ms O'Loughlin claimed. 

She added: "First, employers of parents have vastly different arrangements in whether and how they support parents beyond the statutory minimum of 26 paid weeks maternity leave and the State support of €240 per week.  

"In some cases it may be financially beneficial for the second parent to take the leave. Similarly some jobs may lend themselves better to taking periods of leave."

She cited the example of people who are self-employed who may find it more difficult to take maternity leave. 

She argued that facilitating fathers in taking leave promotes "greater involvement by both parents in their children's lives which is of great importance to fathers, mothers and to families."

She pointed to 2015 research which found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that parenting was extremely important to their own identity.

She added: "The same research found that 48 per cent of fathers felt that they were not doing enough caring. This bill will facilitate greater equality insofar as it allows both parents to share rearing responsibilities."  

Introduced at first stage this afternoon, the Fianna Fáil TD's bill will now proceed with a second stage Dáil debate after the summer recess.

The Shared Maternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2018 is being co-sponsored by Ms O’Loughlin’s party colleague Lisa Chambers.

The Mayo TD said: "This legislation is about maximising flexibility for parents. They are the best judges of what works best for them and their baby. It also allows for greater involvement by both parents in their children’s lives, while facilitating greater gender equality.

"We look forward to debating this Bill in the autumn, where hopefully it will secure all party support," she added.