Wednesday, 29th June 2011
by Jessie Magee
Irish maternity leave above EU average, but Dads miss out
Irish mothers enjoy significantly longer maternity leave than in other EU countries, but fathers here still have no official leave entitlement when their baby is born. Mums in the Republic get 28 weeks paid leave and the right to take a further eight weeks unpaid, compared to the EU average of 14 weeks minimum maternity leave. Nineteen European countries have paternity leave, excluding Ireland.
Proposals for an EU-wide 20-week fully paid maternity leave and two weeks paternity were rejected by member states this week, bringing to a halt ambitious plans put forward by MEPs last year.
Speaking from Brussels this week, Munster MEP Phil Prendergast expressed disappointment that EU ministers had not listened to the views of the European Parliament, or to a recent Eurobarometer survey in which 78 per cent of those questioned favoured 20 weeks' leave on full pay for mothers and two weeks for fathers.
The Labour MEP urged the government to begin the process of introducing paternity leave now, claiming that there would be no significant cost implication for employers.
"Many Irish companies already grant a week or two of paid paternity leave formally, while others informally allow time off. Extending a meagre statutory two-week entitlement to fathers of newborns is hardly too much to ask," said Ms Prendergast, a former nurse and mid-wife.
Storm brews as fishing groups prepare to fight reforms
Irish fishing boats will have to record and land every fish they catch even when they are not in a saleable condition, under proposed changes to the Common Fisheries Policy due to be published within weeks.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki is expected to unveil details on July 13th of a comprehensive reform package which some Irish fishermen fear could set the struggling industry back even further.
A central focus of the reforms is to eliminate discards, in response to a high-profile campaign against the practice of fishermen dumping up to half their catch back into the sea. Discards would be replaced with new quota systems to be phased in by 2016, based on how many fish are landed in port rather than how many are caught. Fishing groups have warned that the value of their catch will plummet if they are not allowed the choice of which fish to keep, especially in areas off the Atlantic where many target species swim together.
Irish MEP Pat ‘the Cope' Gallagher, who is lobbying the Commissioner on behalf of Irish fishermen, says "serious incentives" for fishermen are required if a ban on discards is to be effective.The reforms cannot be passed without the agreement of member states and MEPs.
Fourth MEP joins the presidential fray
"The media will love this, it's real radio and print fodder," admitted former MEP Avril Doyle as she proclaimed herself the fourth Fine Gael member to seek the party's nomination for the presidency earlier this week.The 62-year-old former Senator and former Junior Minister has certainly made headlines by putting herself forward for the race this late in the game. But speaking on RTÉ, Avril Doyle insisted that the "real day out" would be July 9th, when Fine Gael must select a presidential candidate between herself, her old constituency rival Mairead McGuinness, Gay Mitchell and Pat Cox. She firmly refused to be drawn into any criticism of her fellow FG contestants, describing them as "an embarrassment of riches". "We have four excellent candidates, any one of us would do the job extremely well," she said, but claimed her own "basket of talent and experience" was different to what the others could offer.
Doyle, who grew up in Dublin and married into a Wexford farming family, claimed a complete understanding of both the urban electorate and rural Ireland, along with "an analytical mind, good judgement and strength of character". She also said she would be "transfer-friendly" and asked Fine Gael members to consider which candidate would be most likely to secure the position of president which has so far eluded the party.
Doyle claimed it would be possible for her as president to "set a national agenda without stepping outside the prescribed constitutional role" and said she would like to focus national debate on critical social justice issues including mental and physical disability.
Ms Doyle retired from EU politics two years ago due to family reasons, but played an active behind-the-scenes role in Wexford during the general election earlier this year.
Belfast rioting highlights need for extension of EU Peace Programme
The fresh eruption of violent sectarian rioting on the streets of Belfast was raised in Brussels last week during a meeting to discuss the International Fund for Ireland.
The fund, which supports cross-community peace and reconciliation projects on both sides of the border, is due to expire in 2013. But MEPs on the EU's key Regional Development Committee have asked for the scheme to be extended until 2020 in light of the ongoing threat to the peace process.
Munster MEP Sean Kelly called for development of a "Peace IV" programme, through which to target funds at areas of the North and the border counties which have not yet benefited from peace-building projects and remain prone to paramilitary elements.
"The recent rioting in Belfast shows there is still a great deal of work to be done in the North to heal old wounds and build bridges between communities. There is a clear need for a continuation of peace work and the extension of current peace funding," said the Fine Gael MEP.
European Commission officials who attended the meeting accepted that peace and reconciliation was not complete in Ireland, however they offered no guarantee of further funding.
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