Plan for vending machines to give out free condoms in universities and pubs
'At risk' groups targeted in move to cut down on crisis pregnancies
Vending machines could be used to dispense free condoms in a drive to reduce crisis pregnancies and promote sexual health.
The HSE will provide free condoms in colleges and among "at risk" groups this year as the first step towards ensuring greater access to free contraception.
The installation of machines in pubs and clubs has emerged as one of the options to be investigated as the HSE researches the best way to more widely distribute the condoms.
Research will be carried out early in 2019 to determine the best way of distributing the condoms.
Increased availability of free contraceptives was one of the key recommendations made by the Oireachtas committee established to examine the issue of the Eighth Amendment. The committee also recommended improved sex education to reduce the instances of crisis pregnancy.
Funding has been released for the new initiatives in the revised estimates for the HSE's sexual health strategy for the coming year.
A survey on sexual health and crisis pregnancies in Ireland will also be carried out - almost a decade after the last one was completed.
Abortion services will be officially available from tomorrow under the landmark new law passed by the Oireachtas before Christmas.
Health Minister Simon Harris said the additional funding for the new sexual health initiatives will "help us achieve our goals of reducing crisis pregnancies but also improving public health, and supporting sex and relationships education for young people".
"Sex education shouldn't stop at schools," he said. "We have to ensure that parents and those working with young people can help them develop healthy relationships and make informed decisions which protect their health and wellbeing.
"These measures will also improve sexual health and wellbeing across the wider population in this country and reduce the number of sexually transmitted infections."
In addition to pushing the availability of free condoms, there will also be public information campaigns to promote safe sex.
A working group is currently looking at how best to provide contraceptives free of charge, including long-acting options.
The group is expected to determine what forms of contraception will be made available to women as part of the plan to provide widespread access to free contraception, which may require a legislative change.
It is examining medical perspectives and long-acting reversible contraceptives.
At the Oireachtas committee's pre-referendum hearings on the Eighth Amendment, there were fears expressed from the anti-abortion side of the debate that some women would use abortion as contraception. However, this was dismissed as deeply offensive to women.
Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone, who chaired the committee, said that introducing widely available free contraception to tackle the problem of crisis pregnancies was a "no-brainer".
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Junior Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor is planning to introduce sexual consent classes for students across all third-level institutions.
A report on the subject is due to be finalised and brought to Cabinet next month.
Ms Mitchell O'Connor told the 'Sunday Independent' she expects that all universities will be asked to run workshops for first-year students on consent as part of their orientation package.