Tuesday, 30 March 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
267. Mr. Finucane asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if outstanding arrears of old age contributory pension will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [9021/99]
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The person concerned applied for retirement pension in April 1994, more than a year after his 65th birthday. Payment of pension was backdated for six months prior to the date his claim was received and arrears in excess of £2,500 were paid to him. This is the maximum period for which arrears could be paid under the relevant legislation.
Provision was made in the 1999 budget for payment of further arrears of pension in the case of certain late claims. Under these measures, the person concerned was awarded further arrears of pension amounting to £761.60 which were paid to him in December last.
Further arrears of pension could only be paid if the late claim is due to Departmental error, to incapacity which prevented the person claiming in time or to force majeure or where there is current financial hardship. Based on the information available there is no case for the payment of further arrears in this case.
268. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive disability benefit in view of the fact all his doctor's certificates were submitted verifying the genuine illness. [9034/99]
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): A claim for disability benefit from the person concerned was received in the Department on 6 October 1998 in respect of a period of incapacity for work from 6 March 1998 to 3 August 1998.
Under the regulations, a person is required to submit notice of incapacity within seven days of the commencement of the illness. The regulations allow acceptance of a claim after the prescribed time limit only where just cause for late notification is shown. No good reason was given in this case to justify waiving the late notice requirement. Retrospective payment of disability benefit cannot, therefore, be made in this case.
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): One of the qualifying conditions for entitlement to maternity benefit is that the woman's employer must certify that she is entitled to maternity leave under the Maternity Protection Act, 1994. Accordingly, entitlement to maternity benefit is contingent on the woman's entitlement to maternity leave.
Under the terms of the Maternity Protection Act, 1994, a pregnant worker is entitled to 14 weeks maternity leave from her employer, at least four of which must be taken immediately before the baby is due and four weeks immediately after the baby is born. The balance of six weeks can be taken at the woman's discretion. However, this 14 week maternity leave period can be extended, in certain limited circumstances, for up to a further four weeks where the baby is born late. This is to ensure that the woman is always entitled to at least four weeks maternity leave in the period immediately after the baby is born.
As the duration of payment of maternity benefit is generally linked to this maternity leave period, maternity benefit is not, therefore, paid during periods for which a woman is not entitled to maternity leave.
Nevertheless, in the case raised by the Deputy, where the baby is born prematurely, the maternity benefit claim is put into payment with effect from the date of birth of the child. Although she had not taken the normal four weeks leave before the birth of her child, the woman still qualifies for the payment of maternity benefit for the full 14 weeks duration. However, there is no facility under current legislation within which the period of maternity leave and consequently the period of maternity benefit can be extended on the lines suggested by the Deputy.
It should be noted that the 1994 Maternity Protection Act provides women with the option of  taking up to four weeks unpaid “additional maternity leave” following the exhaustion of their ordinary maternity leave entitlement. Furthermore, under the terms of the Parental Leave Act, 1998, the woman in question could avail of part or all of her 14 weeks parental leave entitlement following exhaustion of her maternity leave entitlement, subject to prior approval from her employer. The child's father is also separately entitled to 14 weeks parental leave.
I am already aware of the problems relating to entitlement to maternity benefit in cases such as that raised by the Deputy and, indeed, in other similar cases where, for instance, a baby is born with a serious illness. However, as these matters also concern the woman's entitlement to maternity leave in the first instance, I will be bringing them to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the context of the review which he is carrying out arising from the commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium for the review and improvement of maternity protection legislation.
I should point out that any proposals to extend the duration of entitlement to maternity benefit would have cost implications and would have to be considered in a budgetary context, in the light of available resources.
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