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Period Poverty: Motion (Continued)

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 8

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan] I was amazed during the discussion in the AV Room yesterday, which was a very good discussion, to discover the taboo is still there and is not something from previous generations. Deputy Catherine Martin said earlier that 60% of young girls still feel a sense of shame and embarrassment. Breaking that taboo is not a small thing. The word "menstruation" was mentioned 27 times in the House in the past 100 years. We have shattered that record this evening and that is a good thing. It is right that the women's caucus has broken that taboo.

I agree with Deputy Harty that we should go further, perhaps at the suggestion of the women's caucus, on the issue of free contraception. It would be perfectly appropriate. It is something about which we can come together because it is not party political. We all want to tackle every aspect of poverty but it is not always easy to get agreement on some other ways to do that. That should not preclude us getting cross-party consensus where we can by coming up with specific, targeted and focused measures. The women's caucus has done an important job in doing that this evening.

It is also timely. I am on the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and we were considering the start of the budget cycle. The European Commission was before the committee today with the country review and this is exactly the right day to be discussing budget proposals. This is a specific, targeted and beneficial budgetary proposal. The test of today's debate will be on 10 October, or whatever date the budget will be delivered. It is right to come in early and say this should be in the budget. It will cost approximately €1 million a year to go into every prison and school and ensure we are tackling period poverty.

This is also about education. It is not just poverty in financial terms, it is poverty that comes from people not talking about something and poverty that comes with taboo. We will help to break that with the provision of that €1 million to make all our young people, and our men, better informed and treat this issue with real difference. That is what this debate is about this evening.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I am very happy to pledge the full support of the Social Democrats for this motion and we were very pleased to sign it. It is a significant development and initiative by the women's caucus, the establishment of which has been positive. I commend Deputies Catherine Martin and Corcoran Kennedy who led the establishment of the caucus and this particular initiative. All credit to them for doing that.

This initiative is really important because it tackles both the taboo of periods and the issue of poverty. There are those in Government and elsewhere who would deny that there is a level of poverty which results in a significant number of Irish girls and women finding it difficult to afford basic sanitary items they desperately need on a monthly basis for many years of their lives. Unfortunately we are at that point in Irish society where significant numbers of people are living on the bread line and basic items, such as sanitary products, are a struggle for them to afford and they have to make a choice between buying those products and buying other essentials. We are in that situation now for a significant number of women and families in this country.

This is one of the last few taboo subjects and it is a healthy sign that we are having a mature debate on the issue of periods and how they pose challenges for girls and women in our society. It is important that we are addressing this issue now. I know the caucus looked at a number of particular issues that affect girls and women and identified this issue as something that would help to break that taboo but it is also a doable initiative. That is the whole point about it. This will not change the world or cost a fortune. This is recognising a basic human need for half of the population and addressing it in a practical way. I hope the Government supports this wholeheartedly and provides the necessary funding required.

Deputy Harty spoke about the issue of taboo and those of us who have been around for a while remember the antediluvian attitude and practice within the Catholic Church of the churching of women. Over the years, that has led to a situation where, as was quoted, a significant number of teenage girls, 60%, still feel that sense of shame and embarrassment about having periods. That does not come out of nowhere. It is the result of a long cultural impact. Those attitudes are clearly extremely discriminatory and derogatory and need to be eliminated as a matter of urgency. The way to do that is through education. We need modern sexual health and reproduction education courses in schools and we do not have them. We need to ensure our male and female young people are taught openly about their reproductive systems, having and giving consent, enjoying sexual pleasure and human nature around sexual activity and the reproductive system, rather than the purely biological perspective which is very often the only kind of sex education children receive in school. Education should be about creating a sense of body positivity for young men and women and, unfortunately, we do not have that. There is a long way to go.

I very much commend those involved in this initiative. It is essential that we move forward in doing this and make free sanitary products available on a much more widespread basis and we should take the lead of Dublin City Council. Much more still needs to be done, especially in our schools and public buildings. Well done to everybody involved in this initiative.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I support the motion and commend Deputy Catherine Martin and the women's caucus on bringing this forward. We must be honest and admit that there are statistics quoted in the motion of which we were not aware and that are frightening, such as that 50% of young girls find it difficult to afford sanitary products. We should also mention the vision of Dublin City Council, as outlined in the motion, in making an effort when compared with other sectors of society.

We can have all the motions we want here but we need to make an honest effort and the Government should show leadership on this issue in the forthcoming budget. A similar initiative is being rolled out in Aberdeen on a pilot basis. I do not like doing things on a pilot basis. If we are doing something we need to do it throughout the country. The different places in which facilities could be provided are outlined in the motion. We need to ensure such facilities are in every part of the country, wherever people live. That can be done if there is will from the Government.

I commend the women's caucus again. It is an educational motion for the likes of us and, if the will is there, this can be delivered.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Jim Daly): Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly I thank all the Deputies for their contributions on this issue and assure them that their input will be given due consideration when we look at ways to mitigate period poverty. The impact that period poverty can have on the ability and confidence of women and girls to participate to their full potential in education, employment, sport or social activities is something we need to address. The impact on mental well-being from feelings of shame or stigma associated with period poverty is also something we need to collectively address.

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