Ireland - Social development

A social insurance program exists for all employees and self-employed persons, and for all residents with limited means. The system is financed through employee contributions, employer contributions, and government subsidies. Benefits are available for old age, sickness, disability, survivorship, maternity, work injury, unemployment, and adoptive services. There are also funds available for those leaving the workforce to care for one in need of full time assistance. The system also provides a bereavement and widowed parent's grant. The universal medical care system provides medical services to all residents. There is also a family allowance benefit based on the number of children. The Department of Social, Community, and Family Affairs is responsible for administering payments.

The predominance of the Roman Catholic Church has had a significant impact on social legislation. In 1996, a referendum to pave the way for legalization of divorce under certain circumstances was passed and divorce was set to be legalized in 1996. Contraceptives, the sale of which had been entirely prohibited, became available to married couples by prescription in the early 1980s. In 1985, the need for a prescription was abolished, and the minimum age for marriage was raised from 14 to 18 for girls and from 16 to 18 for boys. Abortion remains illegal.

Women are well-represented in the workforce but generally do not hold senior management positions. Although prohibited by law, discrimination exists in the workplace. The Equality Authority monitors women's rights. There is an insufficient number of childcare facilities, and women earn approximately 15% less than men. The Maternity Protection Act guarantees the right to return to work and 14 weeks of paid leave to women after the birth of a child. Unpaid leave is provided for to both the mother and father by the Parental Leave Act. Domestic abuse and spousal violence remain serious problems. The government addresses the issue of child abuse, and funds systems to promote child welfare.

The government attempts to curb discrimination against foreign workers and the ethnic community known as "Travellers". There have been reports of racially motivated incidents including violence and intimidation.

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