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Parents urged to apply as State extends qualifying age to children aged 12 or under 
Parents and guardians are being urged to apply for an additional four weeks of parental leave that will be available from September 1st. 
The unpaid leave increases from 18 weeks to 22 next month and will rise again to 26 weeks from September 2020. 
The qualifying age of children has also been extended from eight to 12 for parental leave, which matches EU guidelines. 
Parents who have already taken some or all of the current 18 weeks leave and who have children up to 12 years of age will also be eligible to take the extra four weeks from next month. 
Parental leave may be taken up to a child’s 16th birthday where the child has a disability or long-term illness. 
The changes will improve Ireland’s European standing as the State currently offers one of the lowest levels of parental leave in the EU. 
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has signed the commencement order for the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act which was passed by the Seanad and Dáil before the summer recess. 
The legislation was initiated by Social Democrats TDs Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy as a Private Members’ Bill but the Government accepted the legislation and made some additional changes. 
Minister of State for Justice David Stanton, who steered the legislation through the Oireachtas welcomed the cross-party co-operation with the Social Democrats and other parties to pass the legislation. 
He mentioned a new social insurance-based paid leave scheme that comes into effect from November. The scheme provides two weeks’ paid leave to both parents – €245 a week through social insurance – in addition to the two weeks’ paternity leave scheme that started in 2016. 
Some 24,080 fathers availed of the scheme last year and 13,583 in the first six months of this year. 
The act allows for leave to be taken in blocks of one week at a time but this has to be in agreement with the employer, who cannot force an employee to take leave in a single large block of more than six weeks. 
The amended legislation alters the original 1998 Act providing unpaid leave of 14 weeks for parents of children up to the age of five. 
In 2006, it was extended to parents of children up to eight years of age and in 2013 regulations were introduced to extend the leave from 14 to 18 weeks. 
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