The Irish Pharmacy Union has welcomed the decision by the Irish Medicines Board to allow the sale of a morning after pill without prescription.

From yesterday the drug, NorLevo, can be sold over the counter in all pharmacies.

Pharmacies are free to set their own price for the drug, with some outlets having prices as low as €9.99.

The pill provides emergency contraception up to 72 hours after unprotected sex.

NorLevo is one of two emergency contraception pills currently licensed for use in Ireland and from today it will be available for purchase without prescription in pharmacies.

The Boots pharmacy chain began selling a morning-after pill last month for €45, including a consultation.

The manufacturers of NorLevo, HRA Pharma, applied for an over-the-counter licence in January, reportedly upon seeing the demand for the drug when sold in this way.

Pharmacists say they will provide a consultation in a private area to women who wish to purchase the once-off tablet, although it is understood that there is no actual legal requirement on them to do this and there is no age restriction.

Kathy Maher, a Co Meath-based pharmacist and member of the IPU's Executive Committee said: 'Women in Ireland will now have prompt access to Emergency Hormonal Contraception.

'Community pharmacists are healthcare professionals with the skills and competence to dispense this medicine to patients, where appropriate and to provide relevant advice. Patient safety and personal sensitivity are paramount.

'As a profession we are committed and capable of delivering appropriate care for our patients.'

The IMB has found that the supply of Prescription Only Medicines under Patient Group Directions is 'unlawful'.

The IMB statement is in relation to the sale by Boots of the morning-after pill under PGD's.

It said it became aware of the Boots scheme 'in early January and in the intervening period have reviewed the legal basis of the scheme including seeking legal advice, the IMB finalized their position earlier this week'.