There was no money allocated in budget 2020 for a free contraception scheme, a committee has heard.
The Joint Committee on Health heard on Wednesday that despite access to free contraception being a recommendation made by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, the programme is not likely to be rolled out until 2021.
Health Minister Simon Harris said previously he was hoping to introduce the programme this year.
Wednesday’s committee was discussing the Report of the Working Group on Access to Contraception.
Andrew Conlon, principal officer in primary care policy from the Department of Health, said there was little to be gained from rolling out the programme this year.
“It was a very difficult budget in the context of a no-deal Brexit, and indeed the national finances were under pressure in that respect, and secondly the money that was available for health was prioritised towards mental health, community services, and so on,” he said.
“I think as the report makes clear, there’s an awful lot of detailed policy work, and legislative work, to be done to advance the scheme.
“So, and in that sense, there would be very little to be gained by allocating money in budget 2020, as the odds are it would sit just there.
“I think the report should really be seen as a preliminary appraisal in public spending code terms and now we move into the various need to consult with service providers to get more certainty around costs.
“There is certainly progress, I accept it might be a little bit more under the surface at the moment, the public won’t be seeing it, but that is the direction of travel.”
When asked for an estimated date for when the public will actually see a difference, Mr Conlon replied: “I know that the minister has indicated that he would like something in 2021, that’s his policy objective.”
Fianna Fail’s Stephen Donnelly said the answer was very disappointing.
“I think many people in here support the idea that if abortion services are going to do it for free, then you must, of course, provide contraception for free,” he said.
“It would be a perverse situation whereby women have to pay for contraception and but not abortion.
“Introducing abortion services was was not a simple thing to do at all, and yet that was done.
“We’re looking at several years after that, before the movements on contraception can be made, and I’m not a doctor, but I imagined that steps like training for GPs or reducing the cost of long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs) or rolling education programmes for younger people for vulnerable groups, I would have thought that kind of thing is similar to do as introducing abortions across across the country.”
Senator Collette Kelleher said she was incredibly disappointed with the report, which she said moved away from its remit, and began to focus primarily on the cost issue.
Ms Kelleher recalled a number of years ago, she went to have a Mirena coil inserted and had to bring it with her and pay first.
“You know when you go into a hospital to get a stent in, or you go in and get your pacemaker, do you have to bring us in the box with you? Why is contraception picked out in that way?,” she said.
“We need to get to back to principles, which is that contraception is fundamental to women, exercising their reproductive rights, throughout their lives, and it’s fundamental for the prevention of wanted of unwanted pregnancies.”