The Government has decided to hold the referendum on citizenship rights on 11 June, at the same time as the local and European elections.

A Government spokesperson said Cabinet had decided this was the most suitable date.

A number of issues with the wording and legislation are still outstanding, and the Minister for Justice is to consult Opposition leaders in the next few days.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil that the only way the date could be met was if the House returned from its Easter break a week early to debate the necessary legislation - and that it was the Government's intention to bring the House back early.

He added that he did not accept that there was anything 'divisive or difficult' about the proposal, and that it was possible to have a mature debate on the issue.

The Taoiseach was responding to Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party.

A group which opposes the Government's plan to hold a referendum on citizenship was mounting a protest outside the PDs' headquarters in Dublin this afternoon.

Last month, the Government announced it was to hold a referendum restricting citizenship rights for children born here to non-national parents.

The protest group, which calls itself the Campaign Against the Racist Referendum, was staging the action as the Cabinet met to decide the date for the poll. The campaign called on the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, to withdraw the proposal.

Failing that, the campaign said the referendum should not be held on 11 June, the same day as the local and European elections.

A spokesman said the referendum would be a backward step and an attack on the rights of children.