Legislation that will extend unpaid parental leave is scheduled to pass through the Dáil tonight.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed that the financial resolution to allow the legislation to proceed has been approved.

The Parental Leave Bill, which was put forward in 2017 by the Social Democrats, will allow parents of children under 12 years to take a total of 26 weeks unpaid leave from their jobs.

It is currently capped at 18 weeks per child - the minimum allowable under EU law.

The changes are set to come into force from 1 September next when an extra four weeks will be added.

It will then be extended to 26 weeks in September 2020.

A Government spokesperson said the changes are being phased in to allow the public and private sectors to make preparations.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall has said the bill is a very important measure for parents because so many are struggling to find a work life balance. 

Ms Shortall said many parents looking after young children and trying to hold down jobs are being put to the "pin of their collar to keep the show on the road."

She said the new legislation would take the pressure off families. 

The Dublin North-West TD said they had hoped that the legislation would be introduced before the school holidays - but she said Government would not support that so it would be in from 1 September. 

Deputy Shortall said the legislation would be brought in within a phased basis over two years - an additional four weeks would come in from 1 September this year and the second four weeks from 1 September 2020.

She said she hoped the initiative would spark a national debate on work and life and how people can develop a better balance. 

The Social Democrats co-leader also said there were many pressures on families and it was not sustainable for people to be working long hours on a long term basis to get by. 

Asked if the Government is only enabling passage of legislation like this to "soften up" her party, she said the Taoiseach had been supportive recently but in the early days of the Bill she said it was a battle. 

The Bill also increases the age of a qualifying child from the current eight years old to 12 years.

The Government and all opposition parties have supported the bill.

Read more:
New Bill allows eight weeks additional parental leave
New paid parental leave and benefit from November