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Minister commits to taking action on free sanitary products in public buildings

The Seanad heard that in many public buildings, such as Leinster House, tampons and sanitary pads cost €2 each.

Image: Shutterstock/tommaso79

A SEANAD DISCUSSION on a motion calling on the government to provide free sanitary products has heard that in many public buildings, such as Leinster House, tampons and sanitary pads cost €2 each.

The motion was tabled by the Oireachtas women’s caucus, and calls for the provision of sanitary products in all public buildings including schools, universities, hospitals, Direct Provision centres, refuges, garda stations and prisons. 

The issue of “period poverty”, where girls and women struggle to afford sanitary products, has repeatedly been highlighted in Ireland and other countries, and was debated in the Dáil last week.

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

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.

Today, the Seanad was told that women can spend around €8,000 on sanitary products over a lifetime.

Cost of tampons and sanitary pads 

Speaking during the debate, Senator Lynn Ruane said cost is even an issue in Leinster House, where it costs €2 to buy one tampon or one pad in the ladies bathroom machines

“That price is the same across most State building, and that means people are capitalising on women’s needs,” said Ruane. 

“Being in your flowers, the commies are in the garden, the reds are playing at home this weekend. We have been very creative in trying to hide conversations about periods,” she said, adding that women who can’t afford the products are at risk of health problems. 

“I remember hearing one woman who tried to make a sanitary product out of a stocking and needing several days hospitalisation to treat the ensuing infection,” she said. 

There was cross-party support for the motion, with Junior Health Minister Catherine Byrne stating that she wasn’t going to promise, but was going to fully commit to implementing the actions outlined in the motion. 

“Boys, girls, men and women need to go hand in hand on the issue of period poverty. Products need to be free, accessible and reasonable,” said independent senator John Dolan.

Senator Anthony Lawless said the discussion about free sanitary products should also happen alongside the debate about free contraception.

National Strategy for Women and Girls 

The minister said that while the issue of period poverty is not specifically mentioned the National Strategy for Women and Girls, she gave a commitment today that it will be on the agenda for the next meeting. 

She said the issue must be “seriously looked at” by government, adding that she looks forward to developing the action points in the motion with the support of Health Minister Simon Harris. 

“It is not a promise, it is a commitment,” she said, adding that the government will deliver on this.

“It has been left in the closet too long,” she added.

Speaking about how there needs to be a more open discussion around periods, particularly with young girls, she said that now that men play such a hands on role in family life and have more input into the raising of their children “it’s imperative” that men talk to their children about all their sexual health issues and to their daughters in particular, about periods.

She said such open and honest conversations will break down the barriers and stigma girls and women often feel when talking about what is normal bodily function.

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