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Minister sets up period poverty committee: 'Menstruation is not a choice'

The health minister said women are facing significant costs paying for sanitary products.

Minister Simon Harris has also called for 0% VAT on menstrual cups.
Minister Simon Harris has also called for 0% VAT on menstrual cups.
Image: Shutterstock/Zagor Inna

THE GOVERNMENT HAS set up a committee to deal with period poverty. 

Period poverty is an issue where girls and women struggle to afford sanitary products.

Half of females aged 12-19 in Ireland who were surveyed last year said they have experienced issues paying for sanitary products.

The new committee is chaired by the Department of Health and includes representation from a number of government departments and NGOs, including the National Women’s Council of Ireland and the Department of Finance.

The committee, which has met once already, aims to deal with the issue of period poverty in greater detail.  

Earlier this year, Health Minister Simon Harris committed to taking action on free sanitary products in public buildings.

The Oireachtas passed a motion calling on the government to provide free sanitary products in many public buildings, such as Leinster House, where tampons and sanitary pads cost €2 each.

The motion was tabled by the Oireachtas women’s caucus, aimed to have sanitary products stocked for free in schools, universities, hospitals, Direct Provision centres, refuges, garda stations and prisons.

The motion also calls for Ireland to work with other EU states to have VAT removed on such products. There is 0% VAT on such products in Ireland.

“As you know, the Oireachtas passed a motion on this. We committed to taking action on this and the establishment of this working group is the first step on this journey,” said the minister.

“Period poverty is a global challenge but I believe Ireland can be a leader in this regard. Menstruation is not a choice. Women are facing significant costs for looking after their health and I am pleased we are taking steps, with my colleagues in government, to address this area,” Harris told TheJournal.ie.

VAT rate

One sanitary product, which does not fall under the 0% VAT rate, are menstrual cups. 

The minister called for a review of Ireland’s tax approach on these products ahead of last year’s Budget, but no changes were made. 

It is understood Harris’ position has not changed on the issue since last year, and has called on VAT on such products to be scrapped in next week’s Budget. 

Currently, the reduced rate of VAT of 13.5% applies to condoms and menstrual cups, but the minister wants this brought down to 0%.

Contraceptive gels for use in conjunction with barrier methods of contraception also have a 13.5% rate applied.

Other contraceptive products such as the oral contraceptive pill, as well as other medical equipment and contraceptive appliances such as the implant or injection have 0% VAT.

The minister has stated he wants to overhaul the cost and availability of contraception in Ireland. 

Budget 

Earlier this year, the government announced that it wanted to increase the availability of free contraception such as condoms in a bid to reduce crisis pregnancies.

The minister has said he also wants getting the contraceptive pill to be free for women. 

Harris established a working group to consider the policy, regulatory and legislative issues relating to better access to contraception earlier this year.

It is expected an announcement on the issue may be made in next Tuesday’s Budget. While it is not expected that such a provision would kick in immediately, it is envisaged that a commitment to roll out free contraception in late 2020 will be on the cards. 

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