The UN human rights committee has called on Ireland to moderate abortion laws and to open up the Catholic primary school system to secular education.

The strictures were issued in summary observations by the committee on a report presented by the Government earlier this month on how they were carrying out obligations under the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In comments on the report, it said the Government 'should take measures to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies so that they do not have to resort to illegal or unsafe abortions'.

It also expressed concern 'that the vast majority of Ireland's primary schools are privately-run denominational schools' with religion integrated into the curriculum, 'thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education'.

The committee said the Government should amend the Constitution to drop a compulsory religious oath for judges and allow them to make a non-religious declaration instead.

In separate comment, the nine-member body, composed of legal experts from a range of countries, said Britain should ease back on tough 'anti-terror' measures and take firm action to combat "negative public attitudes" towards Muslims.

Expressing strong concern over British government plans to extend pre-trial detention of terrorist suspects from 28 to 42 days, the committee said suspects should be brought to court 'within a reasonable period of time, or released'.

Britain 'should ensure that those responsible are prosecuted and punished in accordance with the gravity of the crime,' said the committee, which has members from Ireland, Australia, Benin, Britain, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Mauritius and Sweden.