There are indications that a majority of members of the Citizens' Assembly favour moving towards less restrictive abortion legislation.

Its chairperson has decided to add a fifth weekend to the four it had already allocated to discussing constitutional restrictions on abortion in Ireland.

Members spent an hour this afternoon discussing the issues that they may have to make recommendations to legislators on.

Reports from note-takers revealed that more than half of the 14 tables at the Assembly favoured expanding the availability of abortion here and regulating access by means of legislation.

Earlier, the Pro-Life Campaign said it is nonsensical to expect the assembly to consider all the 13,500 submissions over just three weekends of sittings.

Spokesperson Cora Sherlock said that "with the current time frame, there is no way the assembly will have the time needed to take an exhaustive look at the issue . . . It simply won’t happen".

During a private session this weekend, assembly members agreed to a recommendation by chairperson Ms Justice Mary Laffoy that an additional weekend be set aside to allow a full consideration of the issue.

Mary Laffoy

Ms Justice Laffoy (above) said the extra weekend would not disrupt her "commitment to complete the report in respect of the Eighth Amendment within the first half of 2017".

The original plan, announced last October in the presence of the Taoiseach, was to conduct the ballots a month earlier.

However at that time, Ms Justice Laffoy emphasised that she was open to extending the timetable if necessary.

The assembly has yet to hear oral submissions from an unspecified number of those who wrote to it with their views. 

So far, over 1,000 of the written submissions have been uploaded onto the assembly’s website in chronological order.

A spokesman said that a handful have been withheld from publication because they were deemed offensive.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that four more assembly members withdrew from the body during December mostly for health reasons. This brings the total number of withdrawals to 15.

A spokesperson said they had been replaced by members of a substitutes' panel which was selected last year by a polling company at the same time that it was choosing the assembly's 99 full ordinary members. 

The assembly said both groups - which are equal in size - were chosen to be broadly representative of the Republic’s electorate.  

Details have emerged about the individual reflective exercise which members of the assembly have been engaging in at a private session of the body.

For ten minutes this morning, each of the 99 members wrote responses to three questions posed by Ms Justice Laffoy.

Members were asked to write on the questionnaire reasons for and against the State regulating the availability of abortion; what rules or standards should be applied if regulation takes place; and reasons for and against regulating through the Constitution as opposed to through legislation.

Ms Justice Laffoy later delivered a synthesis of what she called "a flavour of the responses" at a public session.

She was assisted in preparing it by an expert advisory group of non-members which was appointed some months ago.

The assembly will meet again on 4 and 5 February.