State benefits to be extended in cases of premature births

The Cabinet will agree plans to extend maternity leave and benefit in cases of premature births when it meets this morning.

The Taoiseach and his ministers will also examine proposals that could see the State provide funding for couples who cannotafford assisted human reproduction treatments such as IVF - writes

Currently maternity benefit is paid by the State for 26 weeks.

Minister for Employment and Social ProtectionRegina Doherty will bring a memo to Cabinet to extend this payment and leave from the time a baby is born prematurely.

These will be added at the end of the 26 weeks.

There are around 4,500 premature births in Ireland annually.

This measure was first proposed by the Green Party last April.

Speaking on his way into the Cabinet meeting, Minister forHealth Simon Harris said that by the end of this year he wants clarity for families on what financial assistance will be available for IVF from 2019.

Mr Harris said he is bringing forward the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill today, which will regulate the area.

He said, subject to Cabinet approval, the bill will then be sent to an Oireachtas committee and he hopes to have it in law next year.

Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is due to brief Cabinet on the findings of a review of the legislation that allows some State agencies to access phone records without a warrant.

Former chief justice John Murray carried out the review, which was announced last year.

Under the law, gardaí, GSOC, the Defence Forces, the Revenue Commissioners, and some other agencies can access phone records.

The independent review was initiated after it was reported that three journalists' telephone records were accessed by GSOC without their knowledge or consent.

Under the law, GSOC may access journalists' personal phone records if necessary as part of an investigation.

It followed complaints about media reports on the death of model Katy French in 2007.

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