Cabinet Bill on free period products criticised as too limited

Lorraine Clifford-Lee’s proposal to end period poverty ‘flawed’, Rebecca Moynihan says

The Government is set to support a Bill for the provision of free period products by the State – however, it is facing charges that its planned approach does not go far enough.

The joint proposal will be brought to Cabinet on Tuesday by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman to support a private members' Bill from Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee.

It also calls on the Government to seek cross-party support for the Bill, and in particular to seek support from the Oireachtas women's caucus. The Government will also be asked to proceed in line with the forthcoming recommendations of a subgroup formed under the national strategy for women and girls, which is due to report in the coming weeks, it is understood.

If passed, the Bill would allow the Government to create a framework to provide period products to those who need them, free of charge, a source said. Ms Clifford-Lee said period poverty was a “very real issue here in Ireland”.

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‘Vulnerable people’

“I’ve been talking to various groups over a number of years who have identified it as impacting vulnerable people living in direct provision and homelessness,” she said, adding that the Minister for Health would be required under her Bill to develop a scheme to distribute period products to target groups who might be hard to reach or might find it challenging to access period products.

The memo for Cabinet is understood to refer to a separate Bill, authored by Labour Party Senator Rebecca Moynihan. Ms Moynihan told The Irish Times that her Bill was more comprehensive and created more onerous legal obligations on the State to provide period products in public sector bodies, schools and other places of education, as well as creating obligations that people should have a choice of product and that the scheme should promote underlying environmental aims.

‘Legal underpinning’

She said Ms Clifford-Lee’s Bill was a “flawed piece and paid lip service to doing something without actually looking at the issue”.

“There is no point in doing this without a legal underpinning of a scheme that will hit certain targets,” she said. “It is not comprehensive legislation.”

The Cabinet is also set to discuss the findings of a European Commission inquiry into Ireland's compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy.

The inquiry was requested by the commission after it identified significant weaknesses in the methods of weighing catches of some species in 2019.

The Government will also consider a new regional airports programme up to 2025, and the strategy for the Office of Public Works out to 2024. The annual report of An Foras Teanga for 2018 will also be considered.

Mr Donnelly is also expected to update the Cabinet on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and the pandemic strategy.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times