A “sizable body of work” still needs to be completed before free contraception can be provided to young women despite a government pledge that it would be delivered this year.
A working group was established in April 2019 to improve access to contraception in Ireland.
The group’s high-level report, published in October 2019, identified the barriers that exist, including making it free of charge.
Then health minister Simon Harris told the Dáil that it was his “policy objective” to make contraception free in 2021.
However, in a statement, the Department of Health said progress on these issues has been delayed “due to the need to focus on and prioritise the response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic”.
“A sizable body of work remains to be addressed, in order to develop and finalise the policy approach, bring forward the necessary legislative proposals and ensure the implementation of service delivery arrangements,” the spokeswoman said.
"However, the Minister is very much aware that for those who do not qualify for a medical card, cost can be a barrier to accessing their preferred or most appropriate form of contraception."
She added: “Therefore, provision of free contraception, starting with women aged 17-25, as set out in the Programme for Government, is currently a ministerial priority.” Earlier this month, health minister Stephen Donnelly indicated that he intends to introduce free contraception in the upcoming budget.
According to the working group’s report, it would cost between €18-22m per year to provide contraception to 17 to 24-year-olds, with this cost increasing to between €20-€25m if extended to under 25s.
The Department has established a contraception implementation group, which held its first meeting in July and is working on implementing the commitment “as a matter of urgency”, the spokeswoman added.