At first glance, this year’s Budget seems a bit like smoke and mirrors in some places.
Some progress was made with a slight increase to the SUSI grant and minimum wage going up to €10.50, but the government still not revealing their plan of action regarding the Mica redress was a slight let down.
However, the most talked about decision came in the form of a proposed €31 million women’s health package – namely the decision to invest €9 million to roll out free contraception for all women aged seventeen to twenty-five. This includes two free GP consultations about contraception, including fittings for contraceptive methods like the coil.
On the one hand, it’s a promising start in the right direction. After all, a crisis pregnancy in the seventeen to twenty-five age range can, in some cases, greatly impact a woman’s education and lead them down a path that they hadn’t necessarily planned, even with recently legalised abortion services.
Yet, the main criticism against the measure was that the targeted age category was too narrow. In other European countries, namely France, the categories for ages eligible for free contraception have slowly widened.
In 2013, contraception was offered to those between fifteen and eighteen. This was later extended to the under-fifteen age category last August, with under twenty-fives set to be included next year.
So, it makes sense that the minimum age for consent and free contraception is seventeen, with legal challenges stated as the reason why pushing the eligible age range lower could pose a risk. Yet, Health Ministers Stephen Donnelly has claimed the Government have sought legal advice about the possibility.
And that’s before we even get into the criticism that everyone should also have access to free contraception, not just people with ovaries. Certainly, the burden should not fall on these people alone, creating a whole other debate.
Other measures were included in the announcement such as addressing the issue of period poverty for the first time.
However, no clear measures have been outlined on what exactly will be done. The country will have to follow the precedent set by Scotland.
Scotland tackled the situation head on by becoming the first country in the world to put local authorities under legal obligation to make sanitary products completely free of charge and universal under The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.
The Bill was passed in Scottish Parliament just under a year ago in November 2020. Granted, the logistics of it are still being sorted out but it is still a huge step forward in tackling period poverty.
Perhaps the Irish Government is already attempting to draft legislation, but steps are already being taken outside of the government that mould such future bills. Lidl Ireland recently partnered up with Homeless Period Ireland to start a Period Poverty Support Programme, becoming the first major retailer in the country (and the world) to offer free period products.
Through their app Lidl Plus, customers get a free monthly coupon which can be used on period products. Quarterly donations are made through the Simon Community to those who may not have access to a smartphone, and free products are also donated to clubs across the country for athletes in partnership with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.
These are all steps that the Irish Government could adopt in tackling the issue. And in any event, it’s too soon to say whether this proposal will make a massive difference, or if it’s just a tokenistic step in the right direction with no further action taken.
We shall have to wait with bated breath until the contraception measure is rolled out next August and until other plans are announced to see if it will make a well needed and effective change in Irish society.