All eyes are on Meghan Markle as she prepares to give birth to her first baby. Ignoring the #fakenews about her #fakebump emanating in some of the weirder online portals, it’s probably fair to say that the Duchess of Sussex has exactly the same worries as any new parent about their baby’s health and well-being, but will happily avoid concerns about how she’s going to afford it all.
For those of us without servants I’m looking at what supports are in place for mums and dads in the new world of parenting. Ireland has one of the best healthcare and maternity support systems in Europe. Compared to just a couple of decades ago, when you were expected back to work after just 12 weeks, or struggled to get any benefits, these days there is a range of State help and entitlements.
Maternity and Infant Care Scheme
You are entitled to free pregnancy care from your GP and a hospital obstetrician, during and after birth. This is irrespective of a medical card or private insurance. You can have five pre-natal check-ups split between healthcare providers, free delivery in a public hospital, two post-natal check ups (two weeks and six weeks) and a visit from a public health nurse after you come home. While you are pregnant, you are exempt from all outpatient, inpatient and A&E charges in hospitals if you remain a public patient (those going under the care of a private consultant will still be liable for the usual charges).
While you are on maternity leave, you are entitled to be paid by the Department of Social Protection for up to 26 weeks (two of which are before the baby’s birth).
The weekly rate is €240, but this is rising to €245 from March 25. There are rules about PRSI stamps, and higher requirements pertain to the self-employed (see citizensinformation.ie) and those on social welfare – they may only qualify for a half-payment.
Your employer is not obliged to ‘top up’ the payment to your full salary, although some do. If this is the case, you may be asked to return your maternity payment in lieu to your company so you don’t earn more while you’re off work than you would in it.
If you engage in any paid work (or even some voluntary work) while on maternity leave, the Department can stop your payment.
You can take up to 16 weeks’ additional leave with your employer’s permission – although this is unpaid.
Dads are allowed apply for two weeks’ paternity benefit (paid at the same rate as maternity benefit) as long as they are covered by sufficient PRSI contributions. It’s available for any child born/adopted after September 1 2016 and can be paid within the first six months following birth. You need to apply at least four weeks before you go on leave (12 weeks for self-employed).
This is not a payment, but an entitlement to take up to 18 weeks’ leave (in batches of six weeks or broken up) until your child is eight. You must give six weeks’ notice.
This monthly universal, tax-free payment is given to mothers until their child is 16 (or 18 in full-time education). The current rate is €140 a child.
Home Carer’s Tax Credit
This underused credit is very valuable for stay-at-home parents. It’s often assumed the child must be disabled but any family can apply. It’s worth €1,500 a year where one spouse stays at home to mind children and doesn’t earn more than €7,200 a year. It is not means-tested.