The Minister for Health has said it has become "unnecessary" to introduce a subsidy for antigen tests as the price of kits had fallen since Government began to discuss such a scheme.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Stephen Donnelly said kits had been broadly retailing at €8 per test and for many people this was "simply not affordable".

He said antigen tests were now available at some shops for between €1.50 and €3.

"It is pretty widespread now that the price really has fallen markedly. We got to broadly the price we were targetting without having to spend taxpayers' money," Mr Donnelly said.

"What was important to me was three things on antigen testing; that they're being widely used, that they're being properly used and they're affordable," he said.

"We have managed to achieve the price reduction without having to get into spending taxpayers' money on a subsidisation. The market has done it itself," he said.

Mr Donnelly said people have been using the tests incorrectly but there is clear information regarding antigen testing on the HSE website instructing people on when and how to use the tests correctly.

One in five people are using the tests every week, he said.

He said the advice is to use them when asymptomatic and when engaging in high-risk activities.

Social Democrats co-leader and spokesperson on health Róisín Shortall said the decision "makes no sense on either public health or financial grounds".

She said it was a "serious dereliction of duty".

"The Government has now washed its hands of any responsibility in the provision of antigen tests. Its latest stance means that it has no role in their pricing, availability, accessibility or quality control," she said.

She said the price of approximately €3 or €4 shows "no comprehension of the financial struggles that ordinary people in Ireland are enduring".

"There is a strong argument to make antigen tests free, particularly for low-income and fixed-income households, while we try to suppress this latest wave of Covid," Ms Shortall added.

Labour health spokesperson Duncan Smith called on the Government to subsidise the tests to ensure those who are struggling to make ends meet can access them for free.

Mr Smith said: "Last week the Taoiseach, in a response to me, said he believes there is a role for regular usage of antigen tests in the home into the new year. If so, we need certainty of supply and genuine affordability including measures to ensure those struggling to make ends meet can access them for free.

"We know that antigen tests are a crucial tool in our armory against Covid, particularly at this time of year when the reality is that people want to visit friends and family. We need to empower people to introduce antigen tests as part of their regular life. However, the cost of antigen tests is simply too expensive for many."

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane criticised the Government for what he described as "penny pinching" and called for antigen tests to be made freely available.

He said that lower prices meant that it is cheaper than initially thought to make antigen tests freely available, and that only a free scheme will encourage high usage in asymptomatic households which would be faced with an otherwise prohibitive cost.

"Antigen tests need to be made freely available for asymptomatic people, alongside instructions for proper usage. It was deeply disappointing to hear the Minister roll back on a subsidy," he said.