As many as 85,000 individuals around the country may be at risk of period poverty, with inadequate access to menstrual hygiene, including sanitary towels and tampons, washing and waste management facilities, and education.
A new discussion paper published by Government recommends taking measures to increase access and education — particularly for those in vulnerable groups such as those who are homeless, and the Traveller and Roma communities — and ensuring easy and affordable access to products.
The report, Period Poverty in Ireland, by the period poverty sub-committee under the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017–2020, said: "Period poverty modules have not been included in representative population surveys to date, meaning that wider data on this subject is very limited.
Other countries have already introduced policies to increase the availability and affordability of sanitary products and the report recommends that Ireland does what it can to reduce the risk of period poverty.
"Most women and girls will have 12-13 periods per year with some using up to 22 tampons and/or towels per cycle," it said.
"Targeted measures for certain high-risk groups, including those experiencing active addiction, the homeless and those in long-term accommodation, may be justified on the basis of existing evidence," it said, outlining one of its recommendations.
"Tampons and sanitary towels are already at a zero VAT rate, however, negotiations will continue at EU level to give greater flexibility to member states to allow for, inter alia, a zero rate of VAT on newer period products, thereby reducing cost."
Other recommendations include reducing stigma, such as by developing additional information resources on menstrual health, including period poverty, and the "first priority" of more research using both representative surveys and focus groups with specific minorities and high-risk groups.
The sub-committee behind the report heard from various Government departments as well as Tusla, the HSE, the Irish Prison Service, and St Vincent De Paul.
In the UK, free products are provided through the education system in England and Wales, while in Scotland, free period products can be provided through local authorities.
Minister for Children, Roderic O'Gorman, said Ireland is the only EU member that applies a zero rating to tampons and sanitary towels and added: "No woman, girl, intersex, trans, or non-binary person who menstruates, should have to exclude themselves from the activities of daily living during menstruation or suffer the physical and mental health impacts resulting from both recurrent exclusion and the use of unsuitable period products."